“TV diversity doesn’t just require more faces of color onscreen; it means more inclusion behind the camera in producing, writing and directing ranks.
But that progress, which sparks a broader range of stories based on writers’ and producers’ experiences, lags. USA TODAY research shows that just 10% of executive producers on broadcast sitcoms and dramas this fall are from non-white backgrounds, with ABC — home to super-producer Shonda Rhimes — leading the way at 17%.
There’s been “much less progress” behind the scenes than on screen, says Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, which produces an annual Hollywood Diversity Report. “Even on so-called diverse shows, you’re still going to see a showrunner who’s a white man for the most part. … If you don’t have a diverse writers room, where are those stories going to come from?”
It’s not just producers who influence the shows: The Directors Guild of America estimates that minorities shepherded 19% of TV episodes during the 2015-16 TV season, up only slightly from the previous year. And the Hollywood branch of the Writers Guild of America says minority employment remained flat at 13%.
Ava DuVernay, executive producer of OWN’s Queen Sugar, and a mostly diverse group of women directed all 13 of the new drama’s episodes.
DuVernay sees incremental advancement. “It feels like more than in the past, so it’s progress, but it’s something we need to continue to work on,” she says. “When you look at the number of people-of-color-centered shows, the math is not setting the world on fire.”
Alan Yang, an Emmy-winning writer-producer (with star Aziz Ansari) on Netflix’s Master of None, sees the lack of diversity as less conscious bias than the tendency of top decision-makers, traditionally white men, to assign oversight of TV episodes, which can cost $2 million to $5 million apiece, to people they know and have worked with, who often share a similar background…”