SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard: ‘A Lack of Diversity Permeates Our Industry’

Ken Howard SAG Awards
Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard has called on Hollywood to address the industry’s diversity problem and said the performers union is committed to change.

SAG-AFTRA issued the comments three weeks after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences took steps to double the numbers of minorities in the Academy by 2020. The diversity issue has been at the forefront of Hollywood since the Jan. 14 announcement of Oscar nominations, which didn’t include any non-white actors.

“A lack of diversity permeates our industry and SAG-AFTRA as an organization is committed to affecting change,” Howard said. “Our Equal Employment Opportunity & Diversity Department is solely dedicated to making change on the front line, but inclusivity is something we care deeply about throughout all facets of our union.”

The SAG-AFTRA president’s task force on education, outreach and engagement, and the SAG-AFTRA diversity advisory committee issued a statement Wednesday detailing the union’s position:

“It is a core value of SAG-AFTRA that our strength is in our diversity. We are committed to the broadest employment and involvement of our members, regardless of race, national origin, ancestry, color, creed, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, political affiliation, veteran status, gender identity or expression, age or disability. SAG-AFTRA strives to educate and engage members so that they may be full participants in the workings of their union. We are proud to be a model of inclusion, democratic organization and governance.”

SAG-AFTRA also said that it plans to continue the dialogue and suggest solutions.

“This moment isn’t only about race,” the union said. “This isn’t only about the lack of faces and voices of color. This is about disability. This is about age. This is about gender and gender identity. This is about sexual orientation. This is about the diversity of our stories, of our experiences, of our perspectives. So many of these are, right now, missing from our screens.”

SAG-AFTRA, which has about 165,000 members, said those members work in “the most visible workplace on the planet.” It said it will continue to use this visibility to shine a light on the inequity that still exists.

“Statistical representation is a helpful tool to measure progress but isn’t the ultimate goal,” the union added. “It’s about more and better jobs for all of our members; in particular those who have been historically and categorically denied opportunities to compete for these jobs. Greater inclusion is needed throughout every level: from executive suites, to writers’ rooms; from agencies to the cast and crew members on-set.”

The union also said that the industry needs to become more diverse because of the demands of audiences: “All the greenlighters and gatekeepers need to understand that this is a business imperative and not a politically correct luxury — audiences are choosing authenticity over platitudes and will continue to make those choices with their time and their money.”

“A lack of diversity permeates our industry and SAG-AFTRA as an organization is committed to affecting change,” Howard said. “Our equal employment opportunity & diversity department is solely dedicated to making change on the front line, but inclusivity is something we care deeply about throughout all facets of our union.”

“There does seem to be momentum now towards inclusiveness,” said SAG-AFTRA executive vice president Gabrielle Carteris. “But we won’t really see change happen until those in authority take responsibility and choose to make decisions based on authenticity. These decisions directly impact which stories and people are present and, more importantly, which are missing.”

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  1. Jode Massi says:

    He is right and let’s not lose the fact OLDER WOMEN have had a tough time in this business for years!!! We can’t fight one battle and forget another. AGEISM is something ALL women of ALL color should be concerned about. Otherwise they too will have a very very short career, no matter how well they do now.

    • Raza Burgee says:

      MR. PRESIDENT, PRESIDENT CARTERIS, ADVISOR JASON GEORGE, thank you for your statements and thank our hard working EEO COMMITTEE. I served on the EEO years ago under the Wise leadership of RAY FORCHION and ANNE-MARIE JOHNON. They were great chairs and worked fearlessly along with the late ZARA BUGS-TAYLOR from the WRITERS GUILD WEST….Wish ZARA were her not to see this happening. Coming from the COTTON BELT, may I say that this thrills me and means that I still have a CHANCE. GOD BLESS YOU, SAGAFTRA, GOD BLESS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and it’s VETERANS.

  2. Mr. Howard’s statement is so late in coming and convenient , it is almost laughable. The only commitment to diversity from the hierarchy of this organization has been to collect its members dues. It has almost never taken any position of worth with any of its minority membership, and only now after weighing its political acumilated points has it decided to chime in. I have been a member out of career necessity for too long, and have benifitted from my membership as an actor, but never from it having taking a stance politically in favor of any ethnic member. I have to give them some minute credit for trying , but they have never been successful, at least in terms of the most underserved and underrepresented minority, the American Indian.

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