A Look at Diversity in Entertainment

By Amit Jagwani  | 

With February kicking off the start of Black History Month, there’s arguably never been a better time to talk about equality in the entertainment industry. GLAAD recently released its annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which found that diversity and LGBTQ representation was consistently steady on broadcast network, cable and streaming platform shows for the 2020 season. “In the midst of a destructive pandemic, a long overdue cultural reckoning with racial injustice, and a transition into a new political era for this country, representation matters more than ever as people turn to entertainment storytelling for connection and escape,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO. Here’s how some television networks, films, festivals and awards shows are currently pursuing inclusivity.

More Signs of Progress in the TV Industry
Netflix has doubled its number of Black employees since 2017, according to the company’s recent inclusion report. Over 46 percent of its US workforce, leadership team and director-level positions are now held by individuals from underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds—and the streamer isn’t stopping there. They plan to increase recruitment within inclusion teams, while striving to improve pay and benefits to ensure those are equitable as well.  A recent survey conducted by Netflix showed that younger viewers connect to the diverse characters they see reflected on TV and film. Perhaps in hopes of targeting that audience, the streamer recently acquired two East Asian drama series that are scoring well with global audiences. Alice in Borderland is a Japanese sci-fi thriller that had been viewed by 18 million households by the start of January, while the Korean fantasy-horror show Sweet Home was seen by 22 million viewers in the first four weeks of its debut. Yet the company admits there’s still work to be done, especially among underrepresented Hispanic and Latinx groups.

Meanwhile, in the vast world of reality programming, the Television Academy Foundation recently announced its Diversity and Inclusion Unscripted Internship Program. The $1 million initiative aims to give young people of color and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to gain a foothold in the competitive TV industry by providing mentorship and hands-on experience that could lead to viable work. “I literally grew up, born and raised, 22 miles from Hollywood, but it might as well have been more than 3,000 miles,” said chairman Cris Abrego. The goal is to eliminate that disparity gap and make TV careers accessible to all.

Of Festivals and Films
Covid-19 is hurting all communities, yet its impact is far from equal. Longstanding social inequalities and systemic racism prevalent within our country’s healthcare system mean Black Americans are up to three times more likely to die from this pandemic, while filmmakers from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds have struggled harder than their white counterparts. Yet the Sundance Film Festival, held virtually January 28 – February 3, strived to continue its mission of inclusivity by featuring 27 movies (out of 72 total entries) that were directed by a filmmaker of color or told a story about people of color. Additionally, 47 percent of entries were directed by women and eight percent by filmmakers who identified as LGBTQ.

Spike Lee’s latest feature film, Da 5 Bloods, didn’t premiere at Sundance, but it was selected as best film of 2020 by the National Board of Review (NBR) for its unique retelling of the Vietnam War from the perspective of often-overlooked Black veterans. “This was going to be another Vietnam film, and we wanted to tell it through the eyes—specifically—of African American soldiers, who, during the high point of the Vietnam War, were one-third of the fighting force, yet at the same time only 10 percent of the population back home,” said Lee. He also snagged NBR’s best director prize, while actor Chadwick Boseman was posthumously honored with the prestigious Icon Award.

And the Award Goes To
The 52nd annual NAACP Image Awards are set to air March 27 on all ViacomCBS Networks, and this year Netflix is feeling the love with 51 nominations for various film and TV titles. Included in this list is Bridgerton, which redefined the term colorblind by imagining a nineteenth century London in which all races exist harmoniously together. Black aristocrats comprise the gentry class and Queen Charlotte is a Black woman. Additional nominations include ABC’s Black-ish and I May Destroy You from HBO.

Diversity within the entertainment industry has long been a topic of conversation. And while representation both onscreen and behind the scenes won’t be solved overnight, newly inclusive films, shows and professional opportunities offer hope that we’re heading in the right direction.

Amit Jagwani
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