Los Angeles Times
Bias clouds picture in TV, movies
Entertainment figures lament ‘unconscious’ discrimination they see in Hollywood.
The top entertainment figures filling the stage at the Writers Guild Theater came from wildly diverse areas. One was an Oscar-winning actress, another was an Oscar-winning writer and another was one of TV’s most powerful producers.
Moderating was a former executive producer and show runner of the popular series “The Walking Dead.”
The group united to explore what they labeled the entertainment industry’s “unconscious bias” toward and stereotyping of women and people of color — something they say negatively influences hiring practices in Hollywood.
“Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” executive producer Shonda Rhimes, Geena Davis (“Thelma & Louise”), producer and writer Callie Khouri (“Nashville”), producer-director Todd Holland (“Malcolm in the Middle”) and producer Peter Paige (ABC Family’s “The Fosters”) were among those gathered in front of about 300 people at the Beverly Hills-based event sponsored by the Writers Guild of
The issue of “unconscious bias” has affected writers’ rooms on TV shows and other projects where the majority of writers and producers are white males, they say. The hot-button topic, centered on stereotypes and false perceptions, has taken on added importance in recent months because of the added attention on increasing diversity on prime-time network television.
Glen Mazzara, a former show runner of “The Walking Dead” and an executive producer on several series, including “The Shield,” said he has met resistance when he has tried to add women and people of color to his writing staffs.
“I had two Asians on a writing staff, and a network executive asked if I had an Asian fetish,” said Mazzara, who moderated the panel.
“I find it’s very difficult to go out there and talk about this in an honest way. What is the problem? There are a lot of white male executives, there is a lot of white representation at agencies and the deck is kind of stacked.
“Hollywood is a conservative environment, and everyone is afraid to take a risk.... It’s a systemic problem, and it’s very complex. People need to be educated.”
Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said her organization has done research that revealed a tendency toward unconscious gender bias and that little of Hollywood’s entertainment is gender balanced.
She said only 17% of crowd scenes in animated and live-action films are female. “The only theory I can come up with is that writers think that women don’t gather,” said Davis.
Davis concluded that kids consuming entertainment at an early age are “unconsciously trained” that “in a world that is half female, in the 21st century, that women are less valuable than men and boys.” That thinking carries over into adulthood, she said.
Rhimes said she encountered pushback when she tried to make the background players or extras on her shows at least 50% female and 30% minority.
“It took them a long time to wrap their heads around that concept,” she said. “It’s really interesting when you try to change the flow of traffic in a hospital or in the White House. You’re changing the ecosystem. So it was a big deal, changing layer by layer by layer.”
Sponsors of the event included Google, the Directors Guild of America and the Davis Institute.