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Discrimination And Nepotism In Hollywood

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My battle to diversify film has been years in the making.   I wrote 8 screenplays, and over the years, attempted to shop them to major Hollywood producers and agencies.   I was told that no producer or studio accepts unsolicited screenplays, and one needed to be represented by an agent in order to get read.  Most screenplays sold to Hollywood producers are studios are sold by two agencies, CAA and WME. While these agencies have a de facto monopoly on screenplay sales, a few studios monopolize the distribution of film. Upon contacting the agents, I was told I needed to be referred to them by a major player in the film industry.   This scenario is a completely catch 22 that disproportionately locks non whites and women out of the film industry; as one must find a major player in order to get read by an agency.  The major players are disproportionately white and male, and tend to prefer to back other white males.  According to a study published by the writers guild, only 5% of screenwriters in 2011 where non white.  But this nepotism goes far beyond racism. The key industry figures tend to prefer to refer their relatives. Even most whites have no access to a number of high paying industry positions that are reserved for industry elites.  Examples of high profile people in the film industry inheriting their place in it are Kate Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn), Tom Cruise (son of a casting director), Michael Douglas (son of Kirk Douglas), among others too numerous to name. These are actors, but it clearly shows how important one's family connections are industry wide. Quite clearly, the industry isn't interested in talent . Its interested in your connections ,and major agencies do not try to hide it.

 The lack of diversity for screenwriters and other behind the scene jobs in film is especially appalling when one considers the large number of non whites in both Los Angeles and New York, the two centers of the film industry.  Arguably, keeping the film industry closed means you have very few very points in film, which has profound effects on media.  This negatively affects pop culture in general. This lack of diversity in screenwriters, agents, producers and other behind the scenes film industry people leads to a lack of diversity within the actors. The most popular genres, such as fantasy, action, and other movies that make up the summer blockbusters, very rarely have black actors in major roles, and essentially never have identifiable hispanic or asian actors in major roles. The superhero movies have been very lucrative for Hollywood. But the only blacks to have substantial roles in this genre are Halle Berry (who played Storm in the X-Men) and Will Smith (In Hancock he played a demigod of sorts). The fact that you rarely see non whites with superpowers or playing divine beings in movies is a form of racism, as allows only one group of people to play evolved humans or divine beings. Not only are non whites typically not in superhero movies, they tend to be found mostly in lower budget comedies or from the hood films, such as Spike Lee's earlier productions. Non whites are concentrated in very stereotypical roles such as gangsters, maids, prostitutes, and victims. The film industry helps perpetuate stereotypes that affect how people perceive non whites. In essence this helps perpetuate racism.

An example of how the industry perpetuates racism is the cop shows. The police officers are glorified and are the stars of the show, while the poor criminals (usually non white) are there in bit roles. So the public sees the officers point of view, but never sees the viewpoint of the poor victims. In short, people in poor neighborhoods themselves are vilified. This has encouraged a percentage of the public to automatically assume that when one has a problem with the police, that the accused is automatically guilty. In urban areas, its created support for supposedly cleaning up neighborhoods. But when these neighborhoods are cleaned up by massive police sweeps (think Times Square) all that does is push the problem elsewhere. Cop shows will not deal with matters such as treatment for addiction, education, and the procurement of employment. These are the things that can reduce crime among the poor, as Hillary Clinton once said, the best social program is a good job. Media portrayals of poor urban areas may make it more difficult for people from said areas to find employment. Living in such badly regarded areas taints the reputation of one living there.

The corporate monopolies which go out of their way to keep the film industry a closed industry also arguably harm art itself. They are risk averse, meaning that they stick to same formulas in film and television. New stories tend not to get told, as the decision makers would rather stick to what they consider safe bets. This leads to constant remakes of old television shows and B movies. It also leads to the effective replay of one television show. An example of this is the Golden Girls. The character types shown in this show where the intelligent modern woman, the idiot, the wise guy, and the prostitute. For awhile, this became a standard in television shows with female leads, as Designing Women, Living Single, and Sex and the City followed these character types so closely you de facto had the same show simply being played by different actors. This is a big factor in why television shows lost audiences to the reality tv shows, and to the internet. As US demographics change even more (Hispanics are the biggest minority) the film industry itself risks losing audiences if its films don't reflect the public.

The form of nepotism in entertainment also helps create the extreme disparities of wealth that one finds in Los Angeles and in New York.  Non whites who live in these very expensive cities don't have access to high paying jobs in these monopolies, and therefore tend to be pushed to the periphery of these metropolitan areas. Its time the public takes action to stop this. I recently sued Creative Artists Agency and the William Morris Agency in an attempt to open up their procurement of screenwriters. This would be only a first step to bring more diversity and transparency to the film industry, and to the larger media.   This is only a first step in creating a media that shows more diverse viewpoints.  Others need to weigh on on this struggle, and certain Occupy movements are already starting to do so, such s the recent Occupy Fox Studios, and other Occupy organizations.

 

http://twitter.com/#!/screenwriter32

Screenwriter. Historian. Graduate of Cornell University. Currently taking graduate classes at Lehman College.

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After five years in LA, with an MFA in Screenwriti... by Linda Laurin on Sunday, Oct 30, 2011 at 12:15:29 PM
Discrimination based on skin color, whites vs... by syed mahdi on Monday, Oct 31, 2011 at 2:23:19 AM