Survey Sheds Light on TV's Diversity Problem

The results might help explain the lack of diversity this fall in scripted television.

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The near-whiteout at the 2011 Emmy Awards drew criticism from The Root and other sources. But the problem for this show, or for its sibling, the Oscars, is about who the directors are. Producers hire directors, and the directors decide who and what goes on the screen. But Hollywood's overwhelmingly white male producers rarely hire blacks, Latinos, Asians or women of any background as directors. 

A new Directors Guild of America report shows how woeful the record is, but it's the same news -- just a different day. The report analyzed more than 2,600 episodes produced in the 2010-2011 television season for more than 170 scripted television series shown on broadcast TV, basic cable and premium cable. The shows were produced by production companies including ABC, CBS, Fox, HBO, NBC, Sony and Warner Bros.

White males directed 77 percent of the shows, and white females directed 11 percent of the episodes. Minority males directed 11 percent, and minority females directed 1 percent. The racial and gender near-shutout was more striking for one-hour series, in which white males directed 80 percent of episodes.

White males lost some of their mojo with half-hour series, since they only directed 74 percent. Did Tyler Perry's many comedies cause that white male directorial drop-off? Tyler is doing something right, whether you like him or not: He made $130 million between May 2010 and May 2011, and Hollywood counts winners by their revenue.

The Directors Guild analysis also lists the worst and the best of the shows when it comes to hiring women or minority directors, and compares current numbers with those from 2009-2010. There is little difference. The DGA's conclusion: "The statistics seem to demonstrate that as a whole, most production companies have demonstrated little or no interest or effort in increasing diversity in their hiring practices from year to year."

As the DGA's co-chair of its diversity task force, he said in the report's press release, "It's not enough to just give lip service to the idea of increasing diversity behind the camera. These programs are so far failing to live up to their promise. So we're going to take the discussion straight to the people on each show who make the hiring decisions." 

Good luck with that. In a related vein, last May the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism published a report about the movie industry that stated, "Hollywood movies directed by African Americans are significantly more likely to include African-American characters with speaking roles than movies not directed by African Americans." Really?

Does that also mean that if there is more diversity behind the camera, there will be more in front of it and greater likelihood that more minority, and female, actors will be nominated for Emmy or Oscar awards? What a concept.

Frank McCoy writes about business for The Root.

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