The National Latino Media Council is vowing to unleash a year of militant action in its quest to increase the representation of Latinos across the Big Four broadcast networks.
CBS Corp. has pledged to boost employment of Latino actors and creatives following an Aug. 17 meeting in Los Angeles. The gathering at CBS’ West Coast headquarters in Studio City included chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves and CBS’ newly appointed entertainment president Kelly Kahl; Thomas Saenz, chair of the NLMC; and Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Nogales’ org is the most active of the 10 groups that comprise the NLMC.
The NLMC targeted CBS first among its broadcast peers because of what it viewed as the Eye’s poor track record in employing Latino actors, writers, directors, and producers. The group did a 10-year analysis of CBS’ statistics regarding Latinos and determined that the network’s track record was worse in the 2016-17 season than it was a decade ago. The group also discovered that CBS’ numbers weren’t that much worse than ABC, NBC, or Fox — a harsh reality that has spurred NLMC to take a more aggressive stance in demanding measurable diversity commitments from TV networks, film studios and talent agencies.
“All of us are part of a bigger multi-ethnic coalition, and we have decided that this is the year we’re going to have to get very, very militant,” Nogales told Variety.
It took nearly three months to arrange the CBS meeting, in part because Nogales and Saenz insisted that Moonves be a participant. The NLMC had assembled a 30-person strike force that was prepared to mount demonstrations outside CBS facilities, as well as a pressure campaign with CBS’ advertisers and social media efforts to embarrass the network.
But as the veteran advocates sat down with the CBS team, they were “disarmed,” as Nogales put it. CBS presented them with stats showing that the number of Latino actors and writers on the network’s shows for the 2017-18 season have doubled compared to last season.
The Eye executives agreed to order additional scripts from Latino creators and agreed to give more episodic directing assignments to Latino helmers. The commitment includes a higher volume of episodic directing assignments spread among a wider pool of directors. And Kahl agreed to hear 10 additional program pitches from Latino writers and/or producers.
“We were very impressed with what they’ve done in just the past three months,” Nogales said. “It just shows that when people really want to do something, they do it. They stop with the BS and they do it. As we were walking out, Thomas and I looked at each other and said ‘If we’d known it was going to be that easy, we’d have asked for twice as much.'”
The groups are putting major emphasis on commitments to hire writers and directors because they are the source of stories that in many cases will organically lead to opportunities for actors of color. “Writers are paramount because they are the future showrunners,” Nogales said.
Fox is the next focus of the NLMC effort. Efforts to schedule a meeting are in progress, Nogales said. He said the toughest nut to crack has been the talent agencies, undoubtedly, because they are not as vulnerable to public pressure as a high-profile TV network.
“Now is the time for all networks and other media outlets to address this longstanding issue of significant Latino under-representation, for the outlets’ own future prosperity as much as anything. CBS has now taken strides to address this issue and others should follow the CBS example,” Saenz said.
Nogales has been down this road before. He was a leader of the landmark 1999 effort that led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding on diversity by each of the Big Four networks with a multi-ethnic coalition that included the NAACP and the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition. But nearly 20 years later, the statistics indicate that representation is still lacking, particularly for Latinos.
Nogales chalks it up to “laziness” and a tendency to stick with a relatively small pool of well-tested creative talent. That mentality makes it hard for newcomers to get a foot in the door.
“They all want to do the same thing over and over again,” Nogales said. “They’re more comfortable that way. We are prepared to demonstrate, to write to advertisers, and to do all of things that in the past we really haven’t done.”
(Pictured: The CBS medical drama “Code Black” offers one of the network’s most diverse ensembles)