April 21, 2014
Surrounded by people with questions after leading the panel: “Diversity in Cable Programming Content & The Bottom Line” at the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s Hollywood Creative Forum held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on March 12, Darnell M. Hunt, Ph.D. was asked ‘what did people want to know? What kind of answers are they looking for?’ He responded, “Not surprisingly, most expressed frustration about how difficult it’s been to get a gig, to open the closed doors, and being the only person of color on auditions.”
That frustration is no more a surprise to Hunt, who is Professor of Sociology and Director of Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, than it is for the cable television industry. In fact, he had discussions with industry stakeholders for a year before the study began with the expressed purpose that it would be designed to have an impact. “We wanted to do something that wouldn’t be easy to ignore, and to ensure the industry would have a stake in it,” said Hunt. “We set out to do something more comprehensive and systematic, looking at the totality of TV shows. We’re planning to do a content analysis of on-air portrayals, we’re looking at employment numbers, chronicling show credits, and working with Nielsen to get audience demographics.”
Response to the “2014 Hollywood Diversity Report: Making Sense of the Disconnect” was “more or less” what he had hoped. The report has received extensive coverage in the press, including the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, NPR, Breitbart, and even publications outside the United States, such as the Daily Mail in the U.K., with headlines such as “Hollywood is Woefully Out of Touch with Emerging America” and “Redefining Hollywood: ‘Diversity Makes More Money.’” It has also created great fodder for talk shows and sparked online discourse from academia to community organizations to corporate America.
The impact of the study on changing the dynamic is yet to be determined. Panelist John Fogelman, Co-Founder, El Rey Network and CEO, FactoryMade Ventures, said it this way, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Hunt believes he was destined to do this study. He traversed the East to West Coasts to be in the business, and in the position to provide a comprehensive, in-depth, inside truth about the state of diversity within Hollywood and the cable television industry. After earning his degree in Journalism at USC, and while studying for his MBA on an NBC scholarship, Hunt did his management internship at a DC television station. While working in the newsroom, he witnessed disconnects between decision-makers in the newsroom and the communities they served. He thought to himself, “somebody really needs to study this.”
Hunt attributes the 1992 riots in Los Angeles for creating a perfect opportunity to begin his research, which culminated in his dissertation in sociology. Did images contribute to uprisings? He visited every studio and did lots of interviews, which became the background for this project. “While earning my Ph.D., this had always been brewing,” he said.
“The industry has taken it very seriously,” said Hunt about the recent diversity report. “Our goal is to deliver a new study every year to continue to measure the progress in the industry,” said Hunt who is looking for industry backers to support the practical data that so clearly illuminates the bottom line impact of diversity and inclusion. Indeed, the report is considered by many an imperative for those who care to heed the need to stay relevant in a country headed to a majority minority population within the next couple of decades.