A new report from the Hollywood Bureau of the NAACP has found that the scarcity of Black executives in Hollywood has led to a plethora of films and TV shows that “are harming the African American community,” and that the “absence of Black control of media has rendered the community vulnerable to a host of debilitating impressions, ranging from negligent disregard to deliberate degradation.”
The report, released Wednesday on the heels of last month’s NAACP Image Awards, was commissioned by the NAACP Hollywood Bureau in collaboration with Dr. Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences at UCLA, and MEE (Motivational Educational Entertainment) Productions.
The report, titled “The Black Executive: A Partial Solution to the Psycho-Social Consequences of Media Distortion,” makes the case that “Black executives play a crucial role in leading the effort to accurately depict African-Americans in Hollywood storytelling.”
In the study, Hunt found that in 2020, 91% of film studio CEOs were white and 82% were male; that 93% of studio senior management teams were white and 80% were male; and that 86% of studio unit heads were white and 59% male.
The statistics for television networks were similar, though “a little more inclusive with respect to gender.” The report found that 92% of network CEOs were white and 68% male; that 84% of network senior management teams were white and 60% male; and that 86% of network unit heads were white and 46% male.
The report also noted that there were “no Black CEOs or members of the senior management team at the major studios in early 2020, and only 3.9% of major studio unit heads were Black.”
Read the report in full here.
“Media content informs and misinforms opinions about Black people, ultimately influencing perceptions and behaviors, followed by laws and policies that govern and define social circumstances with steep psycho-emotional consequences,” the report states. “The most damaging consequence of the industry’s faulty approximation of genuine Black experiences is the absorption and adoption of those characterizations as misshapen forms of self-identity, worthy of emulation.”
Black youth, the report says, are particularly vulnerable to distorted on-screen images. “Black youth culture has been co-opted by corporate America to sell products and services, while also over-indexing in the consumption of TV shows, movies and other media content. This is a key profit reservoir for Hollywood, despite African Americans having little control of the content that broadly defines them.”
Hunt also surveyed 55 top Black Hollywood executives about the process of greenlighting projects and about how diverse representation in executive suites can affect outcomes. “While the overwhelming majority of survey respondents have been in the entertainment industry for more than 10 years,” the report found, “most of them had been in their current senior-level positions for less than two years, coinciding with the global response to the heinous murder of George Floyd.”
The survey also found “that much of the respondents’ frustration with the gatekeeping process was rooted in the simple fact that with one or two exceptions, Black executives do not have final say on the fate of projects. One interviewee said, ‘The closer a project gets to being programmed, the higher up the ladder it needs to get approved. And the higher up the ladder you go, the less diverse the industry is overall.’ However, despite Hollywood’s underutilization of their talents, the Black executives surveyed believed they are making essential contributions to an industry that remains ill-equipped for meeting the needs of its diverse audiences.”
“Hollywood’s casual disregard for authenticity and dimension is literally inflicting harm on the well-being of African-American communities,” Hunt said. “This must stop. Instead, media companies must dedicate themselves to a wholesome alternative – including more Black executives in green-lighting and development decisions, since their voices lend the perspective that’s all too often missing.”
“The racial upheaval and protests across the country led to many overdue conversations about injustices and social disparities that had been ignored by many Americans,” said Kyle Bowser, senior vice president of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau. “Notably, prominent Hollywood power brokers responded to this moment of racial reckoning with public promises to do their part in helping to move the nation in a more just direction. What has become clear is the remedy for Hollywood’s ills must include expanded narratives about Black people. There must be a more inclusive industry, with more opportunities for advancement, including executive positions where the power of decision making is wielded regarding project greenlighting, marketing, and distribution.”
Ivan Juzang, founder and president of MEE Productions, said that “We need to recognize that media is a social determinant of health, just like the physical environment, public schools, public health, and other government systems. We have to understand and get beyond looking at Black consumers as merely a profitable market, and realize we are actually creating damage, directly and indirectly to the community.”
The report acknowledges, however, that “Hollywood has made unprecedented progress in on-screen diversity in recent years. The accounts Black executives shared in this study illustrate many of the ways they have served as change agents helping to move things along. The pace of demographic change in America and resulting market realities suggest that the changes we have seen so far must be just the beginning if the industry is to truly flourish going forward. But those changes can only be sustained, in the long run, by an industry eco-system that is structured to empower decision makers from diverse perspectives to make the right decisions. In short, Hollywood’s executive suites must be remade in the image of America’s rich diversity.”