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California To Film And TV Studios: Be Diverse (On And Off Camera) And Collect Extra Money

A photo of Christian Bale and Matt Damon dressed in black at the premiere of the film "Ford V Ferrari."
Christian Bale and Matt Damon at the premiere of "Ford V Ferrari" in 2019. The movie received a California tax credit, but starred and was largely made by white men.
(Kevin Winter
Getty Images)
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It’s called runaway production, and it’s what happens when other states and countries offer TV and film producers financial incentives to ditch Hollywood and California and come their way.

California has its own rebate plan, but its latest version has a twist. Gov. Gavin Newsom last week signed a bill authorizing $330 million in additional tax credits (on top of the existing $330 million) for productions and infrastructure, but for the first time the state’s incentives include diversity reporting and goals.

What’s more, future shows that are diverse in front of and behind the cameras can collect extra money.

“If our tax dollars are going into supporting an industry in the state, it should absolutely be reflective of the people of the state,” said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, who co-authored the new incentive bill.

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It’s a tricky balancing act. Take the critically acclaimed movie “Ford v. Ferrari.” It was largely filmed in California thanks to rebates, which generates millions in direct (costumes or equipment rentals, for example) and indirect (such as cast and crew hotel rooms and restaurant meals) spending.

But if you look at who made the film, it was almost entirely white men: The movie starred Matt Damon and Christian Bale (the real characters in the story were white men), and almost every department head — editor, composer, production designer, you name it — was a white man.

“That is an unfortunate example of who you know, and who is around you and who has access to entry that ultimately gets these jobs.” Carillo said. “And so we're hoping to be able to change that.”

Multiple studies show that Hollywood consistently fails to employ people of color, women and other historically underrepresented groups. Over the last 10 years UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity report has found that while cast diversity is improving, much more progress needs to be made in below-the-line jobs.

“We want to have these productions here, but the studios really need to show that they are making an effort to have a workforce that is reflective of the population,” said Ana-Christina Ramón. She’s the co-author of UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report, which just received $250,000 from the state for future research.

The studios really need to show that they are making an effort to have a workforce that is reflective of the population.
— Ana-Christina Ramón

Tying production tax credits to diversity goals is new for California, but it’s not the first state to do so. Ramon says California has been hampered in part by Proposition 209, which passed in 1996 and bars affirmative action considerations in public funding.

It’s not just the California Film Commission that’s trying to encourage studios to create more diverse content and hire more diverse actors and crews.

Starting with next year’s Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will link best picture eligibility to a four-prong test for diverse stories, inclusive filmmaking teams, and marketing and industry access aimed at underrepresented communities.

No one is being forced to make diverse content.

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But if you want a state production rebate or a best picture trophy, it certainly will help.

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