The NAACP called on Hollywood to increase Black representation in its high-level executive ranks, issuing a report Wednesday arguing that Black executives need to have more influence in development and greenlighting of film and TV projects.
The report, prepared by UCLA sociologist Darnell Hunt, comes nearly two years after corporate America — including the major Hollywood studios — made commitments to act on diversity and inclusion following the murder of George Floyd. The report includes survey responses and anonymous interviews with Black Hollywood executives, capturing a mix of both optimism and skepticism about the progress of those initiatives.
“The intent is always good — the recognition that there is this big representation issue raised,” said one executive. “[But] you can’t just download what it means to live in a Black body to anon-Black decision maker. Not to say that they can’t make decisions on this content. They can. But I think the way you really solve the problem is to have more Black decision-makers.”
Since 2014, Hunt has issued annual reports on representation in film and TV. Those reports have shown significant progress over the last several years in the diversity of on-screen performers. But the executive ranks remain overwhelmingly white, especially so at the uppermost levels.
In 2020, Hunt found that 3.9% of the heads of major studio units were Black. In television, 6.8% of network CEOs and 2.9% of senior managers were Black.
“In short, while Hollywood’s studios and networks have worked to appease audience demands for more diverse, on-screen content in recent years, it appears as if they have done so without fundamentally altering the way the industry is structured — without also diversifying who is making the decisions behind the scenes,” the newest report concludes.
In 2021, the researchers surveyed 50 Black executives in Hollywood, and conducted follow-up interviews with 24 of them. The survey found that 56% of the respondents had been in their current job for two years or less, which, the authors suggest, indicates that they were brought on in the wake of their companies’ recent diversity commitments.
Most of the executives reported that they do have influence in greenlighting decisions, but many expressed frustration that Black executives do not have the final say on whether to make a show or not.
“The closer a project gets to being programmed, the higher up the ladder it needs to get approved,” one executive told the interviewer. “And the higher up the ladder you go, the less diverse the industry is overall.”
Several respondents expressed similar feelings.
Said one of them: “Everybody’s going to have to start asking themselves the question, ‘Should I be the one making these decisions? Or do I have the right people here to caucus with to make decisions?'”