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Chris Winton-Burnette

Kelsey Satalino

ENC 2135

5 November 2015

Marginalization in the Entertainment Industry

Film and television have been scrutinized since the inception of the two mediums,

particularly in the case of specific use of persons and their respective talent to contribute to the

art form. The controversy stemming from every facet of the industry, from casting to

storyboarding, has concerned those yearning for an accurate depiction of ethnic and cultural

diversity and its implicit effect on positive societal growth. The current status of diversity, both

behind and in front of the camera, perniciously impacts both the medium and the production

process. Some may ask, Who cares? and proceed to defend the status quo of the talent brought

to the scene. Exploring the history, economy, and behavior of broadcasting media diversity will

offer a better look into the inner machinations of both Hollywood and its attempt in catching up

to an evolving medium.

One does not need to look far to see how endemic the issue has become in American

culture. For the last few years, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at

UCLA has released a compilation of infographics and charts reporting the annual status of

minority representation in the entire film and television population. Despite the fact that over

half of frequent moviegoers are represented by minorities, according to the report, senior

management in entertainment was comprised of 96 percent white and 73 percent male

employees. Typifying the outstanding disproportion of race and gender, the director remarks, If

you look at every level in the industry, women and minorities come out at the bottom (Hunt).
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Clearly, when looking back on the timeline of mainstream film, one would quickly recognize that

earlier pictures showed no sensitivity towards incorporating culturally expansive talent. The

litany of prestige pictures showcased at various film festivals all portrayed white, male

protagonists, whilst the foil character with no depth or dimension, usually played to comic effect,

were typified by minorities. The concept has come to be known as whitewashing, denoting the

monopolization of white actors (and to a lesser extent, actresses). The history of American

cinema has seen those not included in the white actor category caricatured as a device or obstacle

that the again- white actor interacts with to advance the plot.

The inundation of race relations into modern culture has oversimplified the mainstream

American perspective, discussing sup-topics with supposed easy answers when the most

obvious concept coming to mind is the black-versus-white debate. The superficial nature of

discourse pertaining to progress has to be altered to become more inclusive of other cultures as

well. Gerald Sim writes in his journal Orientalism's Relationship to Film Studies and Race,

evaluating the prevalent problem of diversity as strictly between African-Americans and

Caucasians is a generalization widely ignoring the Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures. The

bias can be traced back to ancient literature, and remains intact with those seemingly pragmatic

values through contemporary media. Sim criticizes the assumption that America is the only

melting pot of religion and ethnicity in the world, and while it is less common in the Eastern

Hemisphere, it still exists as a defiance of stereotypes. Hollywood seems to have maintained the

damaging effects of misrepresentation to this day, affecting the lifestyles of Asian-Americans in

several facets of life, from daily encounters to pre-mature judgments based on perceptions of

behavior and temperament. Other research has been performed on the specific uses of prejudice

against women, the LGBT community, Muslims, and other minorities, but the notion that
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resolving the issue of diversity is not easy has been clearly defined in the history of

entertainment.

As the industry evolved, particularly in the transition to the twenty-first century, more

and more attempts have made to resolve any disparities in question. Some have been mostly

successful, but we still dont know how to identify what is actually hindering progress of

bringing communities separated by fears of being different together. Anyone who is engaged in

the discussion of race and gender in film will likely point to movies about the heritage of a

minority, such as the film Selma, a biopic on the life of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

Someone identifying a movie as a black film or having a brown superhero emphasizes a

flaw that underlies the essence of why the medium is important. We connect to characters as they

develop and relate to their experiences, values, and choices. Labeling events and people by their

ethnic origins is a clear indicator that our culture has refrained from learning the fundamental

concept of treating someone as they are, not as their heritage dictates. Hollywood is very aware

of this prospect, indicated by their choice to continue the cycle and appropriate more funds to all-

white leads.

Evidence in film economics suggests that Hollywood sticking to their guns may not be

the best option, however. Author and pundit Ana-Christina Ramon comments that the highest

median global box office receipts occur in movies that have a forty-one to fifty percent

composition of non-white leads or co-leads (Racial Realities in the Twenty First Century, pg.4).

The study extends to the television market as well. If the media market is more inclined to see

pictures with half of the cast comprised of minorities, then a question arises why we have not

been seeing a sharp influx of culturally progressive movies or television shows. Hollywood is
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most certainly classified as a business, and it is consistently pursuing new methods to make their

productions more lucrative.

The most difficult concern with a transition to more diverse employment is that change

in the status quo is risky, especially for a properties as ubiquitous as the movies and all the

auxiliary industries that come with it. The high-risk mentality is the largest barrier to achieving

that diversity gap. The power to make these decisions also comes from positions heavily

dominated by white males, with executives of major movie studios designated as 94% white and

a full 100% male, according to a report by NPR. Ramon comments that this situation could also

be blamed on the human condition, and the capitalistic tendencies that come along with it. A

perception of success still stems from the fellow white males that correlate with progress with a

business mindset, she states.

On the television front, diverse shows have meteorically risen to the challenge. Several

Emmy-winning programs feature everything from transgender parents to bold comedies

featuring an all-black family cast. The presence of these shows gives a more normalized

perception of good entertainment. The perceived low-risk factor of television can be seen in the

budgets of the average show as opposed to the average movie. Many more shows are produced

with lower costs than studio film. All that is necessary is a few successful television programs

that elite companies want to replicate as a business model and formula for the future of the

medium.

Although the problem of diversity hasnt been completely silenced, the past couple of

years has seen a decline in interest among the American population. However, in 2015, events

associated with race relations have reached audiences with a staggering response. Acclaimed

actress Viola Davis recently received an Emmy for her work in How to Get Away with Murder in
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the Best Leading Actress category. The significance of her win is that a woman of color winning

this award was unprecedented. Award recipients primarily take their time to thank all those who

contributed to her work and their families, but she decided to utilize the power of the stage and

all those who were watching to voice her own story. The only things that separates women of

color from anyone else is opportunity (Davis). Acknowledging her black female friends in the

field provides a glimpse into the wide array of talent available to the domain of the television

industry, and instigates a movement to bring new, original content that provides an outlet for

non-specific characters to be auditioned for from any cultural perspective. With other women of

color, like Gina Rodriguez winning a Golden Globe for her titular part in Jane the Virgin, shows

can prove that high-quality performances can succeed through subtle discrimination without

need of resorting to established uses of underdeveloped characters that the national audience is

used to seeing.

While the television industry is surging with shows like Black-ish, Transparent, and

Scandal scoring critical acclaim and audience appeal, the on-screen assortment of marginalized

groups is being represented at a level never seen before. When it comes to the decision-making

teams behind the scenes, a different story comes into play. When considering the executive

producers, screenwriters, and story editors of the three network cable channels ABC, NBC, and

CBS, 5.5 percent of workers in those positions were people of color (Writers Guild of America).

Several networks have developed plans to get minorities jobs in the Editing, Writing, and Media

category, such as NBCs Diverse Staff Writing Initiative, essentially employing an additional

subsidy to their own shows as long as they employ an ethnically diverse faculty member every

season. Although the act has good intentions, shows take advantage of the offer by claiming that

the one writer they get paid for is all that is necessary to enact diversity in the storyline,
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perspective, etc. Amy Aniobi from the HBO comedy Brothers in Atlanta remarks that Everyone

knows who the diversity writer is. Youre the one whos the only one (Slate). At a time when

competition is so high to even obtain a position in the field, being labeled as an economic

incentive as opposed to a human being wants to construct great storylines and contribute to

American culture.

In terms of a solution, a small amount of accomplishment has already taken place, but a

wider variety of producers, directors, editors, and every other vocation in the film and television

industry needs to be instigated. The largest challenge is figuring out how to incentivize those

already in power to encourage the most diverse team possible, without producing any negative or

unintended consequences. The underlying challenge within that challenge is that the media

production industry is still a corporate ladder; you have to start out an entry-level position and

then work you way up to a senior staff member, just as you would at any other job. The British

Film Institute is doing a great job dealing with this issue, allotting a majority of their funds to

development deals with high-tier producers already in the field to transfer to larger networks.

This will produce a trickle-down effect, of sorts, and the casting process of writers will be

determined by those already keeping those initiatives in mind because of the opportunity given to

them by a similar process. After considering all that has taken place to imbue a lack of diversity

and all the measures taken to fix the problem, many individuals that are traditionally

discriminated against today seek out the next project or the next pitch to make them more

marketable in the cutthroat environment that is media production. They are already at a

disadvantage walking into the arena to fight for what they are passionate, but they can only hope

for the day when those looking for more talent see being inclusive as an entity with universal

benefit, not a requisite just to get by.


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Work Cited

White, Clovis L. "RACIAL REALITIES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY." Du

Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 7.02 (2010): 423-430.

Hunt, Darnell, Ana-Christina Ramon, and Zachary Price. "Hollywood Diversity Report:

Making Sense of the Disconnect." Los Angeles, CA: Ralph J. Bunche Center for African

American Studies at UCLA (2014).

Sim, Gerald. "Said's Marxism: Orientalism's Relationship to Film Studies and

Race." Discourse 34.2 (2012): 240-262.

Mulvey, Laura. "'Afterthoughts on'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'inspired by

King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946).''1981." (1993).

Staff, NPR. "Diversity Sells - But Hollywood Remains Overwhelmingly White,

Male." NPR. NPR, 28 Feb. 2015. Web. Nov. 2015.

Gold, Michael. "Viola Davis Made Emmys History and Spoke Truth to Power in Her

Speech." New York Times. New York Times, 20 Sept. 2015. Web.

Bielby, Denise D., and William T. Bielby. "Hollywood dreams, harsh realities: writing for

film and television." Contexts 1.4 (2002): 21-27.

"The State of Diversity in Writing for Television - TV Writer Access Project Honorees."

Writers Guild of America, 3 Mar. 2015. Print.

Harris, Aisha. "TV Is More Diverse than Everon Screen. Why Not in the Writers

Room?" Slate. Slate, 18 Oct. 2015. Web. Nov. 2015.

Rony, Fatimah Tobing. The third eye: Race, cinema, and ethnographic spectacle. Duke

University Press, 1996.


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