Minority hiring lags, panel says

Racism is still rampant within Hollywood, especially when it comes to hiring minorities for key executive posts, according to a SAG-AFTRA panel sesh, but there are indications that some studio chiefs are starting mandates to add more women and minorities.

Wednesday night’s panel discussion, sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, was titled “Blacks in the Entertainment Media: The Search for Diversity.”

“When you ask about diversity in Hollywood, my answer is that there is no diversity in Hollywood as it applies to the African-American,” said Sandra J. Evers-Manly, president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP.

“The primary focus” for black performers is still comedy,” she said. “And behind the scenes, less than 2% of producers, directors and writers are black,” she said.

Evers-Manly was one of 11 panelists who took part in the discussion. The others were writer/performer Franklyn Ajaye, actor Raymond Forchion, casting director Eileen Knight, director Gail Mancuso; Rodney Mitchell, affirmative action administrator for SAG; agent Christopher Nassif, screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr., producer Stan Robertson, writer/director/producer Leonard Stern and agent Karen Russell.

“What we are currently seeing is so many black shows being created by white people,” Mancuso said. “So where we really need to see blacks is in the creative process.”

Stern agreed that the representation of African-Americans behind the scenes remains “pitifully small.

“In many ways the problem is worsening, not improving,” he said.

A consensus was that black actors should take it upon themselves to diversify their talents and learn how to write scripts, direct, edit and produce. “I encourage you to put pen to paper because I truly believe there are a lot of opportunities available for good writers and directors,” said Russell, an agent who has several African-American clients.

“A lot of studio executives are increasingly being given a mandate to find a black or a woman for a certain job,” she said.

Ajaye, a standup comedian and actor, said he turned to writing to open up more career avenues for himself. “The sheer number of talented actors out here is overwhelming,” he said. “And performers are the most vulnerable people in the business. They can’t control their destiny like writers and directors can.”

SAG official Mitchell noted that the union is continuing its efforts to “sensitize” Hollywood exex to the idea of hiring more minorities.

“But it’s an uphill battle because the turnover of executives is so great,” he said.

Evers-Manly added that the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP has now turned its efforts toward helping its members get funding to do their own short films.

“April 29, 1992, taught us a lot,” she said, referring to the Los Angeles riots. “We can no longer look to Hollywood to create our images any longer. Our mission now is to create our own projects.”

Toward that end, the NAACP will hold a two-day short film festival on Feb. 27 and 28.

“We’ve got to diversify our crafts and help people get their start at writing and directing and producing,” she said.

And in the interim, pressure from the community on Hollywood to more realistically portray blacks in the media needs to continue, she said. “We can’t let Hollywood off the hook.”

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