The Media's Diversity Dilemma

Recently, the entertainment industry has received a lot of criticism for its lack of diversity. Women and people of color are still underrepresented in certain areas of the film, television and music industries. In 2012, women made up only “18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films."

Mindy Kaling.Photo via gossipcop/Flickr.

Mindy Kaling. Photo via gossipcop/Flickr.

While there are some obvious and well-known exceptions -- Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Kathryn Bigelow – the vast majority of the people making entertainment content are men. Despite increased focus on this area, women are still making slow gains in taking on leadership roles in Hollywood.

People of color are also experiencing underrepresentation or pigeonholing when it comes to leading roles and awards in film and television. While “Twelve Years a Slave," which casted many African or African-American actors in leading roles, won Best Motion Picture for Drama, none of the actors took home a Golden Globe for their performances.

Kathryn Bigelow. Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons.

Kathryn Bigelow.
Photo courtesy of Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons.

In fact, all of the Best Performance awards went to Caucasian actors and actresses, and in some categories (like Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama), all of the nominees were white. Kerry Washington, Lupita N’yongo and Sofia Vergara were the only three actresses of color who were nominated, and none of them won an award.

When Kerry Washington hosted Saturday Night Live in November, a written message was displayed at the opening of the broadcast. “The producers of Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight…Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because ‘SNL’ does not currently have a black woman in the cast," read the message.

New SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Ragheb/Flickr.

New SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata.
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Ragheb/Flickr.

"As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future…unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first,” it continued. Indeed, throughout the night, Washington played Michelle Obama, Oprah and Beyonce, confirming the message of the opening announcement.

SNL has a reputation for being a white old boys club at heart, something Tina Fey references in her book Bossypants and something many past cast members have commented on as well. Last week, SNL hired Sasheer Zamata, their first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph left in 2007, after putting out an audition just for black female comedians. They also hired two black female writers, LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones.

As with any new addition to a show, it is hard to tell how the new talent will fit in with the current cast and writers. However, the move toward an increasingly diverse team may signal a step in the right direction and encourage the rest of the entertainment industry to move towards more diversity as well.

Featured photo courtesy of Pbarrosse58/Wikimedia Commons.

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