Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Diversity In Entertainment Becoming More Mainstream

by KLiedle (writer), Los Angeles, September 26, 2007


The minority report of entertainment today is starting to look up. With success from shows such as Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy, it finally appears that diversity’s gone, well, almost mainstream.

This year, UCLA did a study titled, “Hollywood’s Race/Ethnicity and Gender-Based Casting: Prospects For A Title VII Lawsuit” that studied casting breakdowns posted on Breakdown Services, the entertainment industry’s primary source for casting, for a period of three months last year.

According to the study, as reported in back in January, most (94%) of breakdowns specified gender. Nearly 50% of roles did not specify race, but the role was understood to be for a Caucasian. The study, according to, claimed that the “total percentage of roles reserved for white actors” was nearly 69%, forcing minority actors to collectively compete for the roughly 8.5% of roles open to all ethnicities.

Those statistics make life as a minority actor look horrendously dire, as if life as an actor isn’t already dire enough. However, casting directors have found the study, done by Russell Robinson, professor of law at UCLA, to be frustrating. With stacks and stacks of headshots piling up within days of a breakdown posting and hundreds of photos to scroll through on electronic submissions, a casting director’s job is never easy.

Gender, age, race/ethnicity, and a host of other attributes are the many ways that casting directors attempt to narrow down their choices. Most of the time, casting directors only have so much power over the ethnicity of a certain role. Specifics of a role’s ethnicity can be outlined by the screenwriter of the project, the producer, the director, or anyone else in between. If you’re talking commercials, it gets even more complicated because you also have the added bureaucracy of an advertising agency and their clients, who also have a say in, not only who gets cast, but what their ethnicity is, if that indeed is even a factor. (For advertising, a lot of times it depends on the demographic they are trying to reach.)

When people in control make ethnic diversity a priority, minority actors have a greater opportunities. ABC hosts a minority showcase every year with the goal of padding their casting files full of ethnically diverse actors for consideration for roles in the upcoming year. Other networks have followed suit.

It also doesn’t hurt to have people in charge like Shonda Rhimes, creator and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy. Even the Grey’s promotional tagline implies racial and ethnic diversity as well as plotlines: "Medicine nor relationships can be defined in black and white. Real life only comes in shades of grey"(promotional tagline)

Salma Hayek has used her clout as a well-known Latina actress to get things done in the past, such as her pet project, Frida. Lately, however, it’s been all about her success with helping to bring a widely successful Columbian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, to American audiences in the form of the now widely successful, Ugly Betty.

Diversity also extends to feature films. Even producers such as Ken Atchity of Atchity Entertainment International (AEI), most known for producing such films as Joe Somebody and Life Or Something Like It is teaming up with Spanish Harlem Entertainment (SHE)/ Magic Dragon/Spark Digital Media to produce a series of multicultural, urban American films featuring a cast of characters that represent African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Caucasians.

We’re not talking one feature film; we’re talking a series of feature films. Collectively, they aim to crossover into the Hispanic market as well as the mainstream. The team’s first venture will be the feature, Hitting The Bricks, featuring Rapper Reem Raw as well as Actor-DJ Doctor Dre. The gritty, urban film follows a young, Hispanic man, Fuego, who has dreams of becoming a rap music sensation.

As more producers in both film and television discover the benefits of appealing to mass minority markets (in other words, the dollars that can be made) more and more roles will be extended to actors of minority descent. America’s been changing for awhile, and entertainment’s always a step or so behind, but they’re starting to catch up.

And the era of prominently Caucasian leading roles and principal roles is going the way of Wonder Bread. However, just like with bread, complexity, texture, and diversity is good for us-- and for the entertainment we watch. Of course, it’s all good for minority actors. And that’s certainly not a bad thing.

*Photo credit: The cast of Ugly Betty
~ Copyright ABC/Ugly Betty

About the Writer

KLiedle is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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