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NAACP Report: Without Black Decision Makers, Hollywood Can't Tell Authentic Black Stories

Tyler Perry, left, in a dark green tuxedo, stands next to Will Smith, in a tux with a vest and long tie, with banquet tables behind them.
Tyler Perry and Will Smith pose during the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards in Santa Monica last month. Both men wield considerable power in Hollywood. A new study commissioned by the NAACP found that's still rare for Black professionals working in Hollywood.
(Dimitrios Kambouris
Getty Images for WarnerMedia)
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Hollywood has vowed to try to become more diverse, especially in the wake of Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd nearly two years ago. But a new report says the industry has failed to make material change where it might matter the most: the decision makers.

And when those in power aren’t people of color or women, the content they create perpetuates stereotypes that have a damaging impact on society, the study concluded.

The report from the NAACP’s Hollywood Bureau says that while some Black movie executives have been promoted over the last few years, their numbers remain small. In the film business, executives are still 93% white and 80% male. And with only one or two exceptions, no Black executive can green-light a project.

The numbers in television are scarcely better. Network CEOs, the report says, are 92% white and 68% male, while senior TV managers are 84% white and 60% male.

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Consequently, the report says content not only fails to be authentic but also repeats some of the most damaging tropes about people of color.

White decision makers are often eager to appropriate Black culture, the report says, but not in a manner that yields diverse and inclusive programming. What’s more, that content is then accepted as authentic, which magnifies the impact of such representations.

If you’re continually portraying a group in degrading, dehumanizing ways, it’s much harder for the rest of the country to invite them in.
— Darnell Hunt, UCLA researcher who worked on the NAACP study

“This obsession prompts a reciprocal exchange between Hollywood’s exploitation of Black cultural influence and the Black community’s passive embrace of the industry’s distortions, resulting in a usury trade: self-destructive pathologies imbued by the Black community, swapped for Hollywood’s financial benefit,” the report says.

UCLA researcher Darnell Hunt, who worked on the NAACP study, said in a video tied to the report’s release that negative and stereotypical stories further disenfranchise people of color.

“If you’re continually portraying a group in degrading, dehumanizing ways,” Hunt said, “it’s much harder to recognize their full citizenship and for the rest of the country to invite them in.”

The report concludes that only when the demographics of industry decision makers more closely resemble the nation will Hollywood content reflect the experiences of all Americans.

“Hollywood’s response to the murder of George Floyd is still unfolding, but initial gestures to support Black projects and personnel are encouraging,” the study says.

“Virtually every Hollywood entity has established a [diversity plan] and hired executives to implement various initiatives. However, the investment in defaming Black identity has been deliberate and sustained, since D.W. Griffith used his lens to provoke earlier lynchings of Black bodies. The undoing of that legacy will require a concerted and prolonged commitment.”

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