An eight-member diversity task force – pulled together after controversy over racially tinged emails about President Obama between producer Scott Rudin and Sony studio head Amy Pascal – has met three times on a set of recommendations it plans to present to Pascal later this month.
‘The task force was created with the express goal of combatting the lack of black meaningful content in the (entertainment) industry,” said task force member Jean Claude LaMarre, a producer and director whose film Chocolate City is set to debut later this year. “Sony just happens to be the focus.”
The task force was largely selected by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who had heavily criticized the emails when they first surfaced after the mammoth cyber attack on Sony that began in late November. Sharpton subsequently had two phone calls and a face-to-face meeting with Pascal, and the task force was one result.
Task force members also include Ron Taylor, who formerly was head of diversity at Fox; actress Vivica A. Fox; Hollywood Black Film Festival CEO Tanya Kersey; Pastor William Smart Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; environmental scientist and producer Woodrow Clark; the Rev. K.W. Tulloss of the National Action Network and writer/filmmaker Gary Hardwick.
LaMarre said the group plans to continue meeting well beyond an initial meeting with Pascal. Sony is not providing any funding or other resources for the task force, and it eventually will look at other Hollywood studios, networks, talent agencies, guilds and other major organizations, which also largely have a dearth of African-American executives.
Even Hollywood operations such as Sony and the Lifetime network, which both create films and TV shows targeting African-American audiences, have virtually no senior executives who are black, LaMarre said.
“Kevin Hart comedies (produced by Sony label Screen Gems) are great, but if even the chairman of the company is laughing at them, there’s an issue,” LaMarre said. “There isn’t a single senior VP or president of a major studio who is of African-American descent.”
Other issues include nurturing and developing African-American talent both in front of and behind the screen, and creating more substantive programming with African-American themes, LaMarre said.
The task force is largely focused on improving Hollywood’s record with black talent and executives for now, though groups representing women, Latinos, and gays and lesbians, among others also have long criticized the industry’s lack of diversity. LaMarre said some of those groups have made more progress, such as the many gays and lesbians in positions of power, or women such as Pascal in senior decision-making roles.
“Finding a black person (in a position of power in Hollywood) is like finding a needle in a haystack,” LaMarre said. “I think the African-American issue is more glaring. You won’t find a single African-American executive and that cannot continue.”
We have a call into Sony for comment but haven’t heard back yet.