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Hollywood Guilds Push for Inclusion

Oct 18, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Lee Alan Hill

Special to TelevisionWeek

Hollywood’s talent guilds have a variety of employment programs to increase diversity in the industry and are working with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, both by placing staff on the academy’s Diversity Committee and by participating in the academy’s upcoming diversity summit.

All the guilds keep statistics on minority and gender employment. In addition, their programs may serve as models for the dialogue on prioritizing diversity that ATAS Chairman Dick Askin hopes will begin at the Oct. 23 summit, “Television’s Challenges in Black, White and Multi-Color.”

The Screen Actors Guild has several programs geared toward diversity. For one, it has joined with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and partnered with ABC, CBS and NBC to organize diversity showcases” in which performers of color can audition for network casting directors for TV series roles. The showcases are held throughout the year in different cities. Some are open to SAG members only, others to nonmembers as well.

“The showcases have been going on for several years,” said Ilyanne Morden Kichaven, SAG’s national communications director. “Our goal is to increase casting opportunities so television better reflects the American scene. We have had success with the showcases, and we’re broadening them.” “This year we also had one for people with disabilities with CBS.”

SAG’s commitment to the cause of diversity is a long one, Ms. Kichaven said, pointing out that Lena Horne was a SAG board member in the 1940s, when the guild was advocating for less stereotypical screen images. Currently, SAG has numerous panels that highlight diversity and keeps an employment database.

The Directors Guild of America similarly has programs to bring the industry together with diverse talent. One of its programs is the ABC/DGA Fellowship, through which three prospective directors are matched with a director on an ABC series for a 36-week cycle of mentoring. Assignments to direct episodes sometimes emerge from this effort.

There is also the ABC Touchstone Diversity Initiative, which has just begun and will bring minority directors on board to helm at least 20 TV episodes.

“It is true that the employment statistics have been stagnant,” said Regina Render, the DGA’s special assignments executive. “Our latest statistics based on the top 40 TV series shows that 86 percent of the episodes were directed by Caucasian males-all the more reason why we’re dedicated to changing this and are working with companies such as ABC and Touchstone to make that happen.”

The DGA also has a Diversity Task Force, a Black Directors Committee and a Latino Directors Committee, all of which are focused on increasing employment and inclusion. The groups hold mixers, panels and other events at which both DGA minority members and nonmembers can meet directors as well as the producers who hire them. Many of these efforts are in conjunction with similar, member-based committees at the other guilds.

The guild’s programs focus not only on directors but also on assistant directors and unit production managers, whom the DGA also represents.

According to their spokespeople, neither SAG nor DGA programs have been in place long enough to identify a major success story-an individual who came through the showcase or similar program to gain ongoing employment. At the Writers Guild, however, the Writer’s Training Program has been in place in various forms since 1988, and the WGA can point to working writers whose break came this way. Among them are Paris Qualles, who is African American and whose credits as a series writer-producer include “China Beach” and “Law & Order,” and Silvia Cardenas, a Hispanic who produced “The Brothers Garcia.”

All the guilds have clauses in their Minimum Basic Agreements with the producers calling for “best faith efforts” in increasing minority and gender-based employment. Ms. Render said employment progress is monitored by data collection, and if a particular company is, in the estimation of the DGA, not progressing in due course, “the matter can go to grievance.”

The Producers Guild of America is not a union or a guild but rather an association and therefore does not have a collective bargaining agreement with the studios or networks. Still, Chris Green, the PGA’s director of communications, said the group is active in efforts to increase diversity.

Reflecting the Audience

The producers’ chief endeavor revolves around their annual Celebration of Diversity fund-raiser and awards show, now in its third year. The event, which was held this year Oct. 7, raises money for scholarships given to prospective minority, gay and lesbian producers at colleges including USC, UCLA and NYU. Other scholarships are awarded to the Inner City Filmmakers Foundation, a nonprofit Los Angeles group that seeks to train youth to work in the industry, more specifically in the technical end.

“We also try to bring a more diverse membership into our own guild,” Mr. Green said. “By increasing our numbers we can in turn increase employment in the industry. When you compare the employment and decision-makers in our industry with the audience for our programs, you see we don’t adequately reflect that audience. We realize we need to catch up, and we’re working toward that goal.”

IATSE, the union representing most of the below-the-line jobs in film and television, has no diversity programs either on a national level or at the union’s locals. Linda Jo Loftus, IATSE spokesperson, said, “Producers do the hiring. Talk to them.”