The U.S. has enjoyed enormous respect worldwide for its image as an open society: permeable and receptive to new ideas, new products, new peoples.
Despite the latest wave of anti-immigration rhetoric — including a fringe element that wants to fence off the Mexican border — most polls suggest the majority of Americans believe that the country has and continues to be enriched by its immigrant groups.
The media biz, especially in the last five years, has stepped up its efforts to be inclusive.
Consider these changes: A Hispanic station is often the most-watched outlet in top cities like New York and Los Angeles in primetime. Indeed the top Hispanic network, Univision, is being largely credited with getting masses of Latinos to demonstrate in recent weeks on behalf of illegal aliens.
On other fronts, progress has been made by minorities.
Gay characters populate hit sitcoms like “Will and Grace” and Oscar contenders like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Capote”; an African American, Richard Parsons, is chairman-CEO of media conglom Time Warner.
Still, Native Americans, Arab-Americans and fat people still get portrayed occasionally with stereotypical gracelessness. Just think of “24” and its shady Iranian terrorists or the few token large people who grace primetime, (including the popular Edgar in “24”). Absolutely no one on the big or smallscreen is obese.
The diversity issue, in other words, needs constant updating and tweaking, say its proponents, as results are by no means perfect or uniform throughout the entertainment world. Latinos may now be 14% of the population but are still vastly underrepresented in mainstream media.
Championing diversity is not just perceived in America as the right thing to do: Proponents say it makes good business sense.
The Producers Guild exec director Vance van Petten points out that “the future of the entertainment biz is not necessarily in Hollywood, or just in Hollywood. There are hubs of talent throughout the world and diverse cultures to be drawn upon.” Not doing so, he suggests, could eventually undermine the relevance of what Hollywood is creating.
Organizations like the PGA and the other talent guilds as well as the NAACP have lately stepped up the campaign for inclusiveness, The PGA has begun an annual access workshop for minorities to train them to enter the producing mainstream.
Film and TV producer Marshall Herskovitz, another leading advocate for minorities, argues that there are still hurdles.
“I think the integration of women into the entertainment biz has been a big success story,” he says, “but otherwise, I’d say we’re looking so far at relative degrees of failure.”
In his mind, Hollywood presents a greater challenge than most other businesses in that it is difficult for anyone to master the intricacies of the sub-culture.
“The town has its own mores, customs and codes. It’s hard even for a white kid from Iowa, let alone a black or Hispanic, to break in.”