Civil rights panel will hear from Hollywood

Washington, D.C., has turned the spotlight on Hollywood, as a major federal project to study the resurgence of racial clashes nationwide is focusing on Hollywood’s hiring practices and what effect, if any, prime time programming has in encouraging this kind of violence.

The move comes at a time when some of the major labor guilds are holding their own hearings on the effectiveness of their affirmative-action programs.

Later this month several members of the Hollywood community will testify during three days of Los Angeles hearings in front of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The Commission has conducted similar hearings in Chicago and Washington, and is scheduled to hold more hearings in New York and Miami.

“We’re going to be looking at several different issues concerning racial and ethnic tensions,” said Barbara Brooks, deputy director of public affairs for the Commission. “With the number of these kinds of disturbances on the rise, we decided to devote our remaining time of this authorization period to focusing on this issue.”

Ironically, the Commission made plans to hold these hearings in Los Angeles several months prior to the outbreak of civil unrest here last year.

“Now it’s more important than ever,” Brooks noted.

And Hollywood will be just one area of study within Los Angeles. Commission officials will be looking at the administration of justice, ongoing police reforms and economic development as it relates to job opportunities and small business development for minorities.

In addition to studying the film and TV industry’s minority hiring practices, the Commission will study how the local news media cover racial clashes and how prime time programming depicts people of color.

“We want to see how television programs affect a particular minority group,” she said. “We want to see what may or may not be contributing factors to these disturbances.”

Among those testifying will be people from the major Hollywood guilds, including Screen Actors Guild national exec director Ken Orsatti and Earl Saunders, the former human resources director for the Writers Guild of America West.

Since March, the Commission has conducted dozens of interviews with Hollywood writers, directors and producers, and is getting ongoing statistical information from the major guilds.

Included in that info is the WGA’s upcoming 1993 Hollywood Writers Report, a survey of employment by race, gender and age covering the years 1988-91. The report, to be released June 14, is a Guild-commissioned study that looks at the hiring practices of every film and television production company in Hollywood.

SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will provide info culled from their upcoming joint affirmative action conference, running June 12-16 in D.C.

The conference will include panel discussions, statistical reports and lobbying efforts on behalf of the unions’ in-house committees representing ethnic minorities, the disabled, women and seniors.

“We will publish a report from each city we study, and then will eventually prepare an in-depth report on what needs to be done,” Brooks said.

The Commission was created in 1957 to combat civil unrest and discrimination.

“The idea was that one day this country would not need a civil rights commission,” said Brooks. “Obviously we’re not there yet.”