New casting figures revealed a marked decline in film and television roles for Latinos, African-Americans and American Indian performers.
Screen Actors Guild statistics for 1998 released Monday showed the drop in roles for minorities compared with the previous year was the largest since the guild began tracking employment figures by ethnicity, gender and age in 1992.
The casting data showed that most ethnic groups continue to be severely under-represented on U.S. television and in film, with the country’s burgeoning Latino population the most dramatically behind when their proportion of the population is taken into account.
Latinos constitute approximately 10.7% of the U.S. population, but their roles in films and on TV represent less than one-third their actual slice of the U.S. population.
SAG contracts do not cover daytime television, gameshows or most nonprimetime programming. Moreover, the casting data do not include employment in animated programs.
The casting survey looked at 56,715 roles cast in film and primetime television productions that were signed to SAG contracts, which require producers to compile data on the ethnicity and gender of those they hire. Of that total, 13,025 roles were in films and 43,690 in television.
Nineteen percent, or 10,933, of the 56,715 roles cast in 1998 went to an ethnic minority. Every ethnic minority except Asian-Pacific Americans saw a slight decline in the number of roles they captured, reversing a seven-year trend that saw such performers make slow but steady gains.
Overall, African-Americans dropped from 14.1% of all SAG jobs in 1997 to 13.4% in 1998. Latinos fell from 4% in 1997 to 3.5% in 1998.
American Indians went from 0.4% to 0.2% over the same period, while Asian-Pacific Americans saw a slight increase, from 1.9% in 1997 to 2.1% in 1998.
Men received 63% and women received 37% of all SAG jobs in 1998. This is similar to the gender split recorded every year since 1992, though the gender gap has narrowed slightly since 1997, when men captured 64% of all roles.
The survey also said men receive 60% and women 40% of lead roles, the same split that was recorded last year. In supporting roles, women fell to 37%, while men accounted for 63%, a similar gender split again as was found in previous years.
Two weeks ago, SAG released data showing that two out of three acting jobs last year went to performers under 40. Women aged 40 and up had a much harder time finding roles; 37% of all male roles in film and TV went to actors 40 and over, while just 24% of the female roles went to women in that age group (Daily Variety, April 22).
SAG president Richard Masur sees the new numbers as part of a disturbing trend. “Throughout the 1990’s, the America portrayed in films and on television was moving slowly but steadily toward the reality of our American scene,” he said. “This is the first time the guild has seen those numbers decline.”
The findings came just two days before a SAG symposium Wednesday at the Museum of TV & Radio at which industry leaders plan to seek solutions to the under-representation of Latinos in film, commercial and television roles. At the event, SAG plans to release a report exploring Latinos’ role in the entertainment industry, both as audience members and performers.
“There is clearly room for much improvement in regard to employment for our performers of color, women, seniors and performers with disabilities,” Masur said. “These performers are simply not receiving the numbers of roles they can and should be playing to accurately reflect American life.”
The new figures concur with statistics unveiled six months ago in a Temple University study commissioned by SAG. The study showed that primetime and daytime TV significantly under-represents large segments of the U.S. population, including women, Latinos, Asian-Pacific Americans, American Indians, the disabled and seniors (Daily Variety, Dec. 22, 1998).