Why you should care
Because lots of us are tired of never seeing ourselves on TV or in the movies.
All across ’Murica, summer movie season has started: silver screens, red-carpet dreams and lily-white stars. Yes, you heard us right. Even Aloha features an all-White cast, which was no easy feat considering its Hawaii setting has the nation’s highest proportion of Asian-Americans and the lowest proportion of Whites. (Director Cameron Crowe got around that thorny problem by casting the very Caucasian Emma Stone as as the quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian female lead.)
Hollywood’s race problem, of course, is not news. And unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in Mayberry for the past half-century, you’ll have noticed that it doesn’t seem to be improving, even as ’Murica becomes more multihued. Racial minorities make up some 40 percent of the U.S. population, but according to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, they’re outnumbered by more than 2-to-1 in lead film roles and nearly 6-to-1 as leads on scripted broadcast shows. Which is why we’re calling for something suitably drastic: racial quotas. Not just for casting, but for the execs who greenlight projects and hire directors, producers and other creative team members. Executive quotas are our best shot to dismantle Hollywood’s old-boy network and yield authentic minority storylines that lend themselves to diverse casts, Aloha notwithstanding.
It is true that racial quotas are a drastic solution and they can backfire. Those hired through the system might be seen as “lacking the merits everyone else feels like they earned,” says Ana-Christina Ramón, assistant director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies. And it is also true that Hollywood has made recent progress, or has seemed to. Last season saw a string of hugely successful breakout series featuring largely minority casts, including How to Get Away With Murder, Fresh Off the Boat and Empire. Selma won Oscars and Chris Rock’s Top Five won critical acclaim.
But do you know how hard it was for those movies to get financing? Selma required an act of Oprah to be made.
At any rate, we’ve got a very long way to go and incremental change has not gotten us far. Deborah Calla, chair of the diversity committee at the Producers Guild of America, blames “decades of mostly Caucasians in front of and behind the cameras.” Quotas, meanwhile, are no longer passe. Germany, for instance, will enforce a law next year that requires 30 percent of corporate board members to be women. It had tried merely instructing its largest corporations to boost its female board membership, but turnover was staggering.
Diversity isn’t just an ethical good, either; will also pay off in green, if only studios could get there. Univision dubbed Latinos “the most avid moviegoers,” while a Nielsen report found that Blacks watch more TV than any other racial group. And according to Ramón’s report, films in which 41 to 50 percent of cast members were racial minorities yielded the highest return on investment in 2012. Broadcast shows with the same cast makeup earned the highest median ratings among both Black and white households from 2012 to 2013. It seems that if studios could see in a rainbow of colors, they’d also see green.