It’s a standard Hollywood excuse that there isn’t a sufficient talent pool of minorities from which to choose executives. Well, that’s horseshit. So I disagree with Patrick Goldstein’s latest Los Angeles Times column, More Color, Please, in which 20th Century Fox Co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos is quoted as saying, “It’s not for lack of interest or desire, because we’re constantly searching for creative people. But it’s a really difficult question and we haven’t found an answer yet.” I have. Because I’ve learned that Gianopolis couldn’t have been bothered to attend his own studio’s dinner organized by its so-called diversity department a few years ago. I’m told Fox hosted the event in its executive dining room to gather together a sizeable portion of minority execs to show how “progressive” the studio wanted to become. “The dinner created a big stir in the African-American Hollywood community. It was presented as an opportunity for Fox execs to meet who was out there. When the Fox invites went out, calls and emails were sent wondering who was invited and what is was all about,” one attendee told me. “When we got there it was almost like a class reunion — about 50-60 some black, Latino, Asian execs and producers.”
But, soon, reality set in, I learned. “We all sat there wondering what the point was as [studio film executives] Bob Harper, Liz Gabler and Peter Rice moved from table to table in speed-dating fashion introducing themselves. At the end of the day nothing happened for anyone who attended — even though there were numerous people there who had studio/production company experience and were more than qualified for any studio job. Had Gianopolis been there, he would have realized that, yes, in great numbers we would love to be seriously considered for these jobs.”
Something similar happened at another movie studio, MGM, a few years back, too. “MGM basically said they were looking for a black exec,” one applicant told me. “It looked like a cattle call outside their offices. Every single black person I knew took a meeting. This is usually the case when a studio quietly says they are looking for someone of color. The fact of the matter is that we are out here and we are not that hard to find.”
I abhor how Hollywood is a business where cronyism flourishes as far as studio and network executives are employed. Where execs don’t get hired because they don’t play on the same golf course or don’t send their kids to the same schools. So how in the world can blacks and Latinos and Asians get a foot in the door when diversity is definitely discouraged even among whites? Nor is this just a studio practice. At agencies CAA, ICM, Morris, UTA, Endeavor and the like, it’s considered a sop to diversity that gentile agents are employed at all (though Italians have long been considered faux Jews in that biz). Morris has more minority agents than all the other top agencies combined, but that’s still hardly any.
True, we already know that the hiring of minority actors and directors is disgustingly dismal. But the situation for minority writers is about to get a whole lot worse. Bad enough they’ve seen little progress in job opportunities during the past seven years and remain under-represented, a 2005 Writers Guild of America West report showed. Minority employment in features is under 6%, and in TV is under 10%. But, for the 2006/2007 TV season, several urban-oriented shows disappeared when the UPN and WB form the CW. The WGA points out that the 130 black writers hired last TV season were concentrated at UPN, which employed 58 of those scribes. But some of those jobs have disappeared because the shows have disappeared now that the network has disappeared. (See my previous Screwing the TV Viewers).
Minority hiring in Hollywood is a hot button issue, and it pushes the buttons of minorities already working in showbiz. Complained a veteran African-American development exec at a TV/movie production company who didn’t want me to use his name: “One of the problems about these articles that come out every so often is that they never interview black execs even if in confidence (most would be afraid to tell the truth). They always go after high-level talent to comment, when some of said talent (not specifically referring to Spike Lee or John Singleton who are both interviewed) have a problem with hiring minorities as their execs, agents, managers, etc. for fear of not seeming legitimate in the community as a whole. The fact of the matter is that this issue is brought up quite often asking why are there not enough minority representation in the agencies, studios and production companies. The standard response is that ‘we’ would rather be in front of the camera instead of behind the camera. Of course, this is an out-an-out lie. The idea that we would rather be Puffy or Jermaine Dupree is insulting. Unfortunately, as you are well aware, this is a vindictive industry and many of us who hope to gain a slice of the industry pie are afraid to comment about the realities of the situation and remain publicly silent. I know many people who have looked at this recent article in disgust as 1) Same story, different month and 2) Did he even try to talk to any of the current and/or past execs about the situation? Why are you using John Singleton and Spike Lee as your only sources?”
Goldstein himself did a small survey of African American or Latino production executives at a vice president level or higher and found one executive at 20th Century Fox, New Line and Paramount, none at Universal, Warner Bros., Disney and Sony Pictures. But he failed to mention how the latter studio did go after the one African-American who’s never had trouble getting hired as an exec: film critic Elvis Mitchell. He had a stint as director of development at Paramount under his pal Brandon Tartikoff but departed after six months. And then he had another opportunity at Sony Pictures which he blew big-time. Here’s what I know: a year after Mitchell left The New York Times as its marquee movie reviewer, Sony’s Columbia Pictures announced it was hiring Mitchell to start a New York office with producer Deborah Schindler in March of 2005. The studio hoped Mitchell would scout new minority talent and make movies for minority audiences. But he never showed up for work, insiders told me, so Schindler proceeded to do the job solo. To this day, no one at Sony knows why Mitchell went AWOL, and he refuses to talk about it. In this case, he really was hard to find.