On The Lack of Diversity in Hollywood

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A friend of mine is a part of the comedy circuit out in Los Angeles. The lack of diversity in Hollywood acting and comedy circles was one of our recent topics of conversation.

That discussion has been pushed into the national spotlight by Saturday Night Live’s most recent hire

These two articles are pertinent as well:



So what are we to make of this issue?

The following are a few politically-incorrect points that may have been overlooked:[[MORE]]

1) People like to be around people similar to them

Whites with whites, black with blacks. Similar backgrounds and similar interests.

Who’s most likely to share your points of view and interests? People from the same culture or socioeconomic background. So it should come as no surprise that the people that run these shows (read: white people) are most comfortable having other whites around them.

Sure, there may be some element of racism floating around, but in this day and age, liberal industries like Hollywood are falling all over themselves to be (or at least appear) ‘progressive’–they’re looking to hire more minorities, even if it’s just a token hire made to pre-empt claims of discrimination. The presence of minority hiring programs for screen writers is evidence of that.

Any shortage of black writers may have more to do with the dearth of qualified (willing and able to provide content that customers want) minority writers on show staff than the presence of any discriminatory policy. I can’t state this with certainty, but it’s not unreasonable.

(To be clear: By ‘qualified’, I mean minority writers who are delivering content that the mainstream wants to consume. They may have the talent to write good material, but it might not be material that target audiences are interested in.)

The target demographics may also be more comfortable with mostly-white casts and a couple of token minorities sprinkled in to reassure viewers that they, the viewers, are not racist.

Hollywood is delivering an alternate, more satisfying reality for viewers.It’s the difference between a boxing match you’d see in a movie and actual, real-life boxing matches. Most boxing bouts are boring, so Hollywood choreographs something with more flash.

Studio heads probably have a small pool of candidates to choose from and those Madea films don’t dispel whispers that black comedy writers are best fit producing content for modern-day minstrel shows.There are a ton of aspiring writers of all races getting shut out of the ultra-competitive industry, so much so that ‘screenwriter as pauper’ is the standard.

You’d expect minority writers to struggle to find a spot in the mix.

2) Minorities just aren’t interested in working as writers

Let’s be real.

The biggest reason why there are so few minority writers is that few are interested in screenwriting.

(as a percentage of the minority population, not an absolute number. I’m sure there are thousands of aspiring writers of color.)

As a group, they aren’t as interested in screenwriting. as they are in other pursuits (feel free to speculate why; my thoughts on this will find their way into a future blog post). If we were talking about a position on a basketball team or in the music industry, you would have no shortage of minority candidates to fill a position.

You can’t get blood from a stone.

3) The “Diversity as King” mantra needs to be examined

Candidates self-select for the positions that best fit their skills and interests.

The NBA offers a great example of this:

Before the 1950’s, the National Basketball Association could be kindly described as ‘lily-white’. As the league grew more competitive, owners had a powerful incentive to challenge racially-fueled axioms about minority player intelligence and skill. Discovering that these beliefs were largely unjustified, owners began searching far and wide for players who could help them win, regardless of skin color.

No diversity policy was needed to increase the percentage of minority players within the NBA.

The few team owners who clung to the ways of Jim Crow–a government-sanctioned policy, by the way– got waxed by owners who put the color ‘green’ before anything else. Now, the racial makeup of the NBA has flipped so much that some have bemoaned the lack of white players in the game.

With billions of dollars at stake, professional sports leagues, while not quite pure meritocracies, are pretty close to it.

Blacks tend to have longer arms, shorter torsos, and more fast-twitch muscle fibers than other races, attributes that lend themselves to better speed-sport performance..Blacks,particularly those from poor backgrounds, also tend to see entertainment (e.g. sports, music) as one of their only avenues to success, so they devote considerable time to these activities.

You’d expect the NBA to be filled with black players.

(Note: Affirmative Action as social altruism, a policy for creating new wealth in minority neighborhoods, has some merit; I’m talking about Affirmative Action as a means for optimizing production and performance within an organization.)

Diversity champions want every board of directors to look like a college recruiting brochure; an Asian girl here, a Hispanic guy there.

Either you want an organization to chase business and other performance goals or you want them to be agents of social change, It’s difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish both simultaneously.

Hiring diversity for diversity’s sake is rarely a good move; you want quality to rule the day. When you start tapping minorities who are ‘good, but not quite good enough’ to fill spots in the name of diversity, it leads to inferior outcomes all around.

Race quotas waste time and money, lower morale, and often harm the very people they were intended to help. The beneficiaries of the policies are precluded from the sense of accomplishment of achievement on their own merits and their peer group resents having to work harder than the token picks to obtain their position.

Suspicions of diversity hire competency are legitimate—the people who trumpet affirmative action as a cure-all are to blame. When you substitute social ideals for merit, you’d expect people to question the ability of any new hires pursuant to the change.

(As an aside, the ‘diversity’ most people talk about is superficial.

It’s skin deep—literally.

Many of the minority men and women you see on television, in the office, and at school are not very different from the average white person. They often have the same upbringing and similar consumer tastes and political views as the people around them.

True diversity is much more than that.

True diversity scares people.)

Ironically, many of the people who push for organizations to have memberships that mirror the population at large say nothing about the homogeneity of the players in the NBA, one of the most successful and far-reaching businesses on the planet.

Some might counter that most industries are dominated by whites –even the NBA and NFL, at the ownership level— so there’s no need to criticize the NBA and the Player’s Association for its predominantly-black roster.

I don’t have a problem with that. I’d just say this…

If you’re going to plant yourself on the moral high ground, operate with integrity. Any violation of your values should be a call to arms for you and the people you claim to represent. If you cherry-pick targets for criticism based on political correctness or some other ideal, you lose credibility.

Be ideologically-consistent or have the courage to reveal your hidden agenda.

Life is nuanced, so the issue of ‘how much diversity?’ is not a black-and-white issue (pun intended). There are few instances where talent and opportunity meet clearly to delineate who can do what and who is better than whom at a given activity (e.g. 40-yard dash times in the NFL). Such is the case with acting, comedy, and screen writing. You never know who will thrive when given the chance.

Consuming content is infinitely easier than creating it. Discipline and an elastic thought process are necessary–but not sufficient–conditions for sustained success in creative work. There’s a limited pool of creatives of any race with both the willingness and ability to churn out such work.

No shock that you can count the amount of black sitcom writers on network television on two hands (and, maybe, two feet).

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