WASHINGTON — Network lobbyists, participating Thursday in a panel sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, insisted that when it comes to people of color in primetime programming, the major webs have nothing to be ashamed of.
Facing a skeptical crowd, CBS senior vice president Marty Franks pointed to Bill Cosby, Della Reese and Cheech Marin as minorities who have had prominent roles on Eyeweb shows.
But like other network reps participating in the sesh, Franks warned that the bottom line at the networks is economics. “We can not keep a show on the air very long that doesn’t garner and audience.”
NAACP President Kwesi Mfume agreed that the only thing the networks really appreciate is the bottom line. To that end, Mfume said the NAACP has become a shareholder in all four major network. Mfume said the civil rights group acquired the stock not as an investment, but as a way to guarantee their admittance to shareholders meetings and to “raise hell if we have to.” Mfume pointed out that black Americans have been protesting the way they have been portrayed in popular culture since 1915 when D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” first unspooled.
Mfume also chided the creative guilds including the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild for not doing more to lower entry barriers for African Americans.
Indeed, a consistent complaint from some panelists was that African Americans are not well represented behind the camera. Sandra Evers Manly of the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center said that less than 1% of entertainment execs are African American. And out of 853 working television writers, only 51 are African American, according to Manly. “If you look at what is going on behind the scenes, nobody is passing the test.”