LOS ANGELES (AP) – Organizations representing Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans, who joined with the NAACP in 2000 to increase minority hiring in the TV industry, are broadening their focus to the big screen.
The Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition on Thursday called on Sony, Warner Bros., Fox, Universal, Paramount and Disney to enter discussions aimed at bringing full diversity to on- and off-camera jobs, including the executive ranks.
The uproar over this year's all-white cast of Academy Awards acting nominees helped set the stage for the new effort, coalition leaders said. Latino representation in the nominees was only behind the camera, led by the Mexican filmmakers of "The Revenant": director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
"Now is the time, while there's a lot of attention focused on this," said Daniel Mayeda, co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, one of the umbrella group's members.
While the movie academy hastily adopted new rules aimed at breaking up future white monopolies for the Oscars, the studios and their hiring practices are the root of the problem, he said.
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"We can have the most diverse set of awards voters, but we're not going to have any nominations or wins for people of color if there are no roles," Mayeda said.
Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, agreed.
The Oscars and other awards "are the last in the line of this whole thing called show business. The real culprits are at the very top, with the film studios first and foremost," Nogales said.
The battle isn't the same for every ethnic group.
While all minorities struggle to gain a foothold in films, it's non-blacks who face the stiffest challenge. Last Saturday's Screen Actors Guild Awards offered a dramatic illustration: There were a number of minority winners, including Idris Elba, Uzo Aduba, Queen Latifah and Viola Davis, all of them black.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV," Elba, who won two trophies, said onstage.
Mayeda called their recognition "fantastic," but said the diversity discussion has become "a little binary, a little black and white."
Don Cheadle made a similar point during a recent interview with The Associated Press.
"Diverse doesn't just mean more black people," he said during the Sundance Film Festival last month. "Diverse means more representation from the entire diaspora of what the United States has to offer, not just one particular minority group."
Nogales also lauded the winners. But he chides those who claim such instances represent progress for minorities in general, rather than one group in particular.
"When I hear 'people of color' it angers me, because when I look at who they're talking about, it's African-Americans," he said. "C'mon, guys, let's be real here. African-Americans are doing much better than any other minority in front of and in back of the camera."
Neither he nor Mayeda cast the demand for more inclusiveness as a zero-sum game that risks pitting one minority group against another. Instead, they said, the pressure is on the industry to expand opportunities for all.
The NAACP has committed its support to the new initiative but was unable to take part in its announcement because of other commitments, the coalition said. The black civil rights group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There's much work to do, Mayeda said, given how stubbornly the industry clings to tired practices. He cited minority characters that were either played by white actors — Emma Stone as an Asian-American in "Aloha," Ben Affleck as a Hispanic in "Argo" — or ethnic roles that were rewritten to accommodate white actors.
Studios ultimately must change as America does or lose out, Mayeda said.
The country's demographic shift to a non-white majority is predicted within three decades.
"This is not affirmative action. We're talking about how you make more money. More people would buy tickets if you featured people who look like us or reflect modern society," he said.
Coalition leaders said they are heartened by TV's increased diversity, from shows that feature minority casts ("black-ish," ''Jane the Virgin," ''Fresh Off the Boat") to more non-white writers and directors. But there is inequality: Three of the four major networks have a higher percentage of blacks in prime-time shows than exist in the general population, while all other minorities are underrepresented to varying degrees, The Associated Press reported last year.
The coalition is calling on studios to do with films what the group has pressed them to do for TV, including tracking minority employment and implementing or expanding "pipeline" programs to develop minority writers, directors and others.