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Hollywood’s Diversity Problem: It’s Not Just Actors

Mar 03, 2017

The entertainment industry stands in the global spotlight not only for its artistry, but also for its reported lack of diversity and income inequality. The industry is under pressure from the public and from within to address both.

News coverage of the issue, which usually focuses on the pay and casting of top film and television stars, distorts the problem by focusing on the stars. The Oscar campaigns of 2015 and 2016 generated negative publicity for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because all of the nominations in the high-profile best-actor and supporting-actor categories went to white performers. The response popularized the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and brought renewed attention to Hollywood’s diversity shortfall. With the 2017 nominations, the academy has seemingly turned a corner by increasing minority representation in the supporting-role categories. However, judging the industry based on media coverage or movie and TV casting is akin to judging a book by its cover. Women and minorities are still struggling to be recognized in categories outside of acting, nominations for technicians who work behind the camera, such as editors, cinematographers, and graphic artists, where snubs gain less media attention. What is the status of diversity across the entertainment industry, including creativity-driven fields such as software publishing?

Behind-the-scenes workers also influence the creative vision of a project and help to attract and promote diversity. It is important to remember that although principal actors are the most visible representatives of a project, there are a slew of off-screen jobs that make up the project’s creative environment and heavily influence the direction, tone, culture, and overall impression of the art. We will analyze more than just on-screen employment because the real issue is broader than that. To truly understand diversity and income inequality in the entire entertainment industry, we must investigate all of the intermingled creative industries from which skilled labor is drawn. We seek to answer the following questions:

  • Are minorities underrepresented in Hollywood’s entertainment industry?
  • Does race-related income inequality exist in Hollywood?
  • Does gender-related income inequality exist in Hollywood?

Given the importance of relationships and connections in the entertainment industry, concerns about diversity are warranted. People tend to hire, and recommend, people they know or have already worked with, including family members. With both gender and race diversity nearly nonexistent among top-earning producers and directors, it seems unlikely that diversity can funnel down from the top. This paper will describe the consequences of having a “who you know” barrier to entry and set the scene for a deeper discussion about pathways in an upcoming Milken Institute report, “New Skills at Work.”