March 10, 2016 | REBEL | Newport News, VA
As I was checking into my hotel, my host John Nichols, head of the Newport News College Film department waited to take me to whisk me to campus speak to a Women’s Leadership class. These students came from all disciplines, from economics to history. Among other things, they had been studying the ongoing diversity debates that have been raging in industry news in the past year. They wanted to talk about why women were so shockingly underrepresented in the film industry.
As a Latina writer (less than 2 % of all writers in the Writer’s Guild are Latino) and a woman director (less than 17% of films are directed by women), I know firsthand the difficulties in finding opportunity, funding, and executives to greenlight projects that I’m trying to make. I have worked in advocacy and professional development for Latino filmmakers for over 17 years and served four years as the Chair of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. I am now a Trustee and advise on strategy and development for the organization. I am also a longtime member of Women in Film, a woman’s industry trade group with chapters around the country, and of the New York Chapter of Film Fatales, a group of women directors who have banded together to create opportunities and support one another, in an industry that has not supported our work as well as they should.
The statistics are so bad for women in our industry that this year, the Federal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating possible Anti-Female Bias in the Hollywood industry. According to a DGA study, women currently receive only 16% of the episodic TV directing jobs, and last year directed less than 5% of the major studio releases.
Spurred by a group of female directors who urged the ACLU to take up their cause, the ACLU then filed a complaint with the EEOC (The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a Federal Agency). This could be a first step towards a class-action lawsuit against the industry, exploring sexism, racism, and wage-ism (unfair underpayment of women compared to men).
The numbers are noticeably worse for racial minorities in front of and behind the cameras. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign has received a lot of attention, urging a boycott of the Academy Awards televised show because not a single actor of color was nominated in the male or female Leading Actor categories. That is not surprising given that less than 10% of all roles go to actors of color. Winning a golden statuette can vault an actor to stardom, add millions to a movie’s box office and boost a studio’s prestige. The Oscars are not just another prize to stick on a shelf, they translate to increased income and box office, and increased opportunities for all the winners in all categories, from directing to composing to writing films. Most likely because of this controversy, this year saw Oscar viewing ratings down 16% according to Variety, a big hit to the Academy of Motion Pictures, which is the most watched show on television after the Super Bowl. Reduction in viewership means reduced advertising income, and the Academy has swiftly responded to protests by vowing to include more diverse members in its ranks of about 6000, which now stand at over 94% white members and 76% percent male members, according to the Los Angeles Times. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%. To illustrate how stark this disparity is, I share a photo sent by a friend on my facebook page, of all the nominees for the 2016 Oscars.
Diversity, is in fact good for business. Although it was originally very difficult for me to find support and funding for my film about an exploration of the story of Loreta Velazquez, a Latina woman soldier of the American Civil War, a film that was also to be written and directed by a Latina, when PBS posted the announcement of the upcoming film on their Facebook page with a photo of my actor portraying Loreta Velazquez, it was shared by thousands within the first few hours.
Without any budget for marketing, we had over 42 million media impressions in the first month alone. Single PBS hours have a hard time getting that level of attention even with paid marketing, I would venture to say that contrary to accepted opinion in the industry, audiences are actually hungry for diverse stories that look at our society through fresh perspectives.
The Ralph Bunche Center at UCLA has put out an excellent recent study on the business of diversity in media. They found that as America diversifies, minority audiences are more and more important. For example, one in every four movie tickets are bought by a Latino in the US. And as global box office is beginning to bring in a larger share of film income, diversity becomes even more important to success. Their “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report” asserted that films with a relatively high amount of minority involvement (21% to 30%) achieved the highest median global box office receipts at $160.1 million while films with less than 10% percent achieved a median of $68.5 million.
Given how difficult it is for women and Latinos to make our films, I constantly remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to make my films and to share them with audiences.
Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Maria Agui Carter.