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America is becoming more diverse — our nation’s entertainment networks should be too

an image of a movie theater
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New Yorkers know the entertainment industry. 

On any given day of any given week, a new product is being filmed, created, or developed on our streets and among our communities. We are the home of international premieres, cultural phenomena, and some of media’s most memorable and iconic sets and locations. 

But while filming in our neighborhoods is commonplace, efforts to ensure the entertainment produced in New York City reflects the vast and diverse tapestry of those who call it home are tragically lacking. And that story is not unique to our city. 

From the east coast westward, in every corner of this nation, we are witnessing both a critical deficiency in the diversity of the stories we tell and a growing conversation on the ever-pressing need for progress in the space – direct consequences of underrepresented groups being blatantly ignored and missing in-and-behind-the-scenes of major film, TV and streaming networks since their respective inceptions. 

This year, I joined STARZ and my colleagues Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) to deliver the change so many have so long demanded. In May, we introduced H.R. 1138, the National Leading Entertainment and Arts through Diversity (LEAD) Month resolution. Through this legislation, we aim to raise awareness about the lack of representation in entertainment and call on other stakeholders in Congress and across industries to help create actual solutions that empower and give voice to underrepresented communities in and on entertainment platforms. 

We are all aware this problem has long persisted. Much of this can be attributed to the lack of showrunners, writers, directors, and/or producers of color, few corporate boards, executives, and decision makers pushing for diverse perspectives. There is also a lack of cultural knowledge in telling Black and brown stories – which are American stories – in a truly authentic and nuanced way.  

But don’t take me at my word. These figures offer proof: 

  • Less than 6 percent of the writers, directors, and producers of US-produced films are Black. In some genres (the superhero genre, for example), representation is even lower
  • In 2021, all people of color represented only 30.2 percent of directors and 32.3 percent of writers of films produced in that year and despite strides, people of color and women are still underrepresented as film writers and directors and typically helmed lower-budget films.  
  • The most underrepresented groups in all job categories, relative to their presence in the U.S., are Latino, Asian and Native American actors, directors and writers. 
  • White directors are more than two times as likely to head a film with a budget of or exceeding $100 million than directors of color. 

As major producers of the content our nation consumes, entertainment companies have a moral and patriotic obligation to ensure their products reflect the increasingly diverse society they serve. But this can only be done through systemic change. That means long-term, action-oriented collaboration across industries, as well as a commitment to strong allyship that includes viewers at home and in theaters, advocacy organizations, trade associations, federal and local leaders, and business executives. Our resolution addresses that directly by calling for allyship awareness campaigns in the entertainment industry and implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, like implicit-bias training, common ground training, facilitated conversation, cultural sensitivity, community engagement, and anti-oppression training. 

If you are a consumer of entertainment, never forget that you play a role in addressing this pervasive problem as well. Many are influenced by what they see and consume. Television programs and films can inform and educate audiences while shaping and reinforcing cultural beliefs and attitudes about race, equality, equity, and justice in our country and across the globe.

From “The Jeffersons” and “P-Valley” to “A Different World” and “The Power Universe,” and everything in between, audiences are watching, quoting their favorite lines, and reenacting unforgettable scenes. Without realizing it, they are altering their behaviors, clothes, hopes, aspirations, and dreams all because of who and what they see. Therefore, it is increasingly more important that these images are reflective of our society.

Now, members of Congress hold an opportunity to LEAD this charge, help ensure more inclusive content is available for all generations and increase overall representation both on and off the camera. We are grateful for the support of industry advocates and entertainers who have raised their voices and taken a stance on this issue, as we cannot hope to progress without their influence and impact. Through our continued shared commitment to ensuring that diverse voices and stories are celebrated, we will. 

Let’s pass H.R. 1138 to designate September as National Leading Entertainment and Arts through Diversity (LEAD) Month and make diversity in entertainment the national priority it must be. 

Yvette D. Clarke represents the 9th District of New York and is co-chair of the Multicultural Media Caucus.

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