In a somewhat shocking article posted in yesterday’s L.A. Times, the venerable paper called into account the amount of disparities and prejudice inherent in the “below the line” staff and crew working on film, television and in theater. The article states that the unions representing the likes of makeup artist, grips, film editors, set directors, as well as others, are still primarily white, making it difficult for crafts people of color to join.
L.A. Urban League President and COO Brian Williams mentioned the ongoing issue which makes it harder for artisans of color to get into the unions. ““You can’t work on set unless you’re in the union, but guess what? You also can’t get into the union unless you’ve worked on a set for a certain number of hours and days “So that chicken-and-egg game favors people who have connections.” The Urban League runs apprenticeships for Black and underrepresented communities within the entertainment industry.
Earlier this year, amidst the Black Lives Matter protests that circled the death of George Floyd due to police brutality, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) was picketed by black and brown workers about the disparities, nepotism and lack of representation among below-the-line theater workers.
The comprehensive article includes quotes from the likes of Costume Designer Provi Fulp (Black Lightning), who is now part of that union’s diversity committee under the guild’s Mexican-American President, Salvador Perez.
It also cites the attempt by film editor Ri-Karlo Handy to put together a list of Black film editors on his Facebook page, which was received with a surprising backlash. Since that incident, Handy put together a list of 242 Black editors and assistant editors, only 95 of them who are in the union.
Handy told the L.A. Times, “Hollywood is made up of these silos, private groups, peer groups — whether it’s the academy, whether it’s the unions — where you may have individuals inside of those groups that want to be inclusive, but the system, the structure that’s set up to get you into those groups, has not changed for years.”
The article was also able to get quotes from prominent heads of many of these unions, who have been forming diversity committees to try to deal with the overt “whiteness problem.”
Producers like Tyler Perry have done their part to try to change things by hiring mostly Black cast and crew for his projects, but there still needs to be more Black creators who are able to put together similarly diverse crews while remaining within the unions’ policies.
Perry told the L.A. Times: “You can beg and you can ask and you can knock down doors and you’ll get some progress, but if you want to see long-range change that lasts for a long time … then you absolutely want to have more ownership. And that may not be the immediate answer because it took me 20 years to get here. But that is definitely the answer.”
The lack of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of Hollywood film and television production is an ongoing issue that’s finally being tackled head-on, but a craft person’s inability to get into their respective unions means they can’t work in the business, which is an even bigger issue.
You can read the full story over at the L.A. Times.