Employers failing to create diversity

The glass ceiling is alive and well in Hollywood, and almost as impregnable as ever.

Although there has been some progress, the situation remains bleak for most women, Latinos, and African- and Asian-American members of the Directors Guild of America who are trying to join the ranks of the gainfully employed.

“The numbers are going down, and it’s shocking,” says Paris Barclay, one of three co-chairs of the DGA’s African-American Steering Committee. “We’d like to see a substantial increase.”

A recent DGA report on hiring in 1999, the last year for which statistics are available, says industry employers “have consistently failed to hire women and minorities in numbers that demonstrate a commitment to the encouragement of diversity in the directorial team.”

The percentage of minority members entering the DGA each year has remained stagnant at an average of 12.6% for the past five, a figure less than half of the 28.6% minority share of the American population. The U.S. Census Bureau’s figure for women as a percentage of the population is 51.1%, while in 1999 the percentage of women members entering the guild was only 26.6%. This represents the lowest percentage of female members entering the org since 1995, and the second consecutive year of decline.

Just 3,536 of the DGA’s 12,000 members are women and/or members of minority groups.

Guild officers and members of its minority committees are not taking this lying down, and last year began hosting a series of receptions designed to hook up TV executives with the talent pool of minority and women directors, assistant directors, unit production managers and others represented by the guild.

“There’s an ingrained way of doing business in Hollywood, and in particular network TV, where people want to hire who they know,” Barclay says. “In most cases, they don’t know many African-American members or any other minority, and they don’t know them because they haven’t worked with them, so it becomes a vicious cycle.”

Access Hollywood

But last year’s receptions, organized under the title “Making Diversity Work,” were a big step in the right direction, Barclay says. “Not only did the heads of the networks come but they brought their showrunners, programming staffs and producers — people in a position to hire below-the-line members.

“Some got hired, which to me meant that once they meet them and see their qualifications, they say, ‘This guy would be great for our show.’”

Another effort that is helping the situation of minorities is the Assistant Directors’ Training Program, part of a joint venture between the DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers designed to bring new blood into the directors org.

“A significant portion of women and minorities who are on the qualifications list as assistant directors and production managers came from the a.d.s training program — it’s race and sexually blind,” says Ricardo Mendez Matta, co-chair of the DGA’s Latino Steering Committee, who was hired last year to direct an episode of “Nash Bridges” after meeting exec producer Carlton Cuse at one of the mixers.

Since joining the DGA in 1988, Matta says he’s seen a radical difference in the numbers of Latinos working in the entertainment industry. But gains often are followed by network skittishness. “American Family,” a one-hour dramatic pilot written and directed by Gregory Nava (“Selena”), was slated for CBS. But despite its critical champions, including the LA Times’ Howard Rosenberg, CBS opted not to pick up “Family,” but PBS did, and it will be going into production this spring. It centers on a Mexican-American family living in East L.A., and stars Edward James Olmos, Sonia Braga and Raquel Welch.

Showtime’s “Resurrection Blvd.” not only has a Latino showrunner in Dennis E. Leoni, but the show’s network executive, Pancho Mansfield, is of Cuban heritage.Other Latino episodic showrunners on Latino-flavored shows include Carlos Bermudez (“Los Beltran”), Marisa Perez Brown (“Taina”), Carlos Portugal (“Viva Vegas”) and Jeff Valdez (“The Brothers Garcia”).

“This fact alone represents a gigantic achievement,” says Matta, who grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and staked out a territory in Hollywood, helming 10 episodes of the USA Network series “Weird Science.” “That being said, Latinos remain sorely under-represented in front and behind the camera.”

Matta stresses that the ultimate goal of the Latino Steering Committee “is to see the day when one no longer needs a Latino Committee.”

Making an impact

Wenda Fong, co-chair of the DGA’s year-old Asian-American Committee and, as of January, director of diversity development for all seven divisions of Fox, calls the two jobs a perfect marriage.

“I felt with Fox there was a true commitment from the very top, that we could make an impact on the industry,” says Fong, who joined other high-ranking Asian-Americans at the network such as Quan Phung, director of comedy development, and Samie Kim, director of current series.

Fong — who rode the affirmative action wave of the 1970s into talkshow host gig on KCOP, eventually becoming a director and producer of variety specials, documentaries and sitcoms — notes happily that she knows of three Asian-Americans who got jobs last year as a result of the DGA mixers, one of them Gary Shimokawa, who will direct an episode of the hit sitcom “Titus.”

Gina Brittle Mackey, co-chair of the guild’s Women’s Steering Committee, says it’s “a little easier for women to get a job, but there’s still a glass ceiling, and a lot of jobs that women feel they didn’t get a shot at.”

Formerly a producer for “Entertainment Tonight,” “Extra” and “Inside Edition,” Mackey is a development exec for reality programs at Tribune Entertainment. At the DGA, she helps organize workshops on, for instance, new technology or improving resumes, in addition to special meetings every other month and, of course, the mixers with network executives.

“Change is slow to come about,” Mackey says. “There just hasn’t been enough progress over the long period.”

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