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Civil Liberties Groups Urge NY Senate to Pass Legislation that Promotes Diversity in TV

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project today released a joint statement supporting a New York state bill that would make New York the first state to create financial incentives for TV productions to hire women and people of color in writing and directing roles. The legislation (S.5448A/A.3376B ), which is sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon and Assemblyman Keith Wright, proposes that the Empire State Film Production Tax Credit allocate $5 million of its $420 million fund to television productions that hire women and people of color in writing and directing roles. The bill has already passed the state assembly.

“New York is an entertainment capital and a progressive leader,” said Bernadette Brown, Deputy Legislative Director for the NYCLU. “By creating incentives for equity and inclusion in television, the state has a powerful opportunity to promote greater awareness of how we perceive race and gender, and how we act on those perceptions- how a police officer views a black man; how a teacher treats a Latino child; what a young girl believes she can accomplish when she grows up.”

The lack of diversity in the entertainment industry drew renewed national attention after the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony, where only white actors were nominated for the top four acting categories for the second year in a row, leading to boycotts and a social media campaign #OscarsSoWhite. On-screen disparities are fueled in part by the fact that there are few women and people of color behind the camera.

“Discrimination in the television industry is a serious civil rights problem that affects us all,” said Melissa Goodman, Director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU SoCal. “Excluding the voices of women and people of color from one of our most powerful cultural products reinforces stereotypes and bias people experience in their everyday lives. It’s clear that the industry needs the incentives called for in this bill, along with external pressure from civil rights enforcement agencies, to finally fix this long-running, entrenched problem.”

The ACLU affiliates, with offices in Southern California and New York, issued the statement to address a severe lack of diversity in television, improve the variety of stories we see on TV and create local jobs in New York for writing and directing. In the 2014 to 2015 network season and the 2014 cable season, white men directed 69 percent of episodes while men of color directed only 15 percent, white women directed only 13 percent and women of color directed a mere 3 percent. A recent study also found that women make up just 30 percent of television writers while only 13 percent are people of color.

With little diversity among writers and directors, harmful stereotypes about communities of color and women are allowed to flourish, damaging perceptions of these groups. Research reveals that blacks and Latinos are portrayed as less intelligent, more immoral, and less admirable than whites. Additionally, a 2012 study on television viewing and self-esteem among pre-teens found that watching television essentially increased white boys’ self-esteem and decreased white girls’, black girls’, and black boys’ self-esteem.

“The New York State Senate has the opportunity to take real, meaningful action to address the troubling lack of diversity in television,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East. “The WGAE is pleased to join with the Directors Guild of America in supporting this important legislation. More diverse storytelling will strengthen support for our industry and ensure its long term health and relevance. We hope Majority Leader Flanagan brings the bill to a vote before the end of session.”

The ACLU has previously asked civil rights enforcement agencies to address the disparities in the entertainment industry. Following a two-year investigation that uncovered blatant and rampant discrimination against women directors, the ACLU SoCal and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project asked government entities to investigate the problem. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs then launched a still ongoing inquiry into the industry’s hiring practices.

“Whatever the outcome of the federal investigation, the entertainment industry should act now to promote equal opportunity behind the camera,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The film production tax credit already has brought millions of dollars to the state and put countless creative New Yorkers to work. This bill holds tremendous promise for incentivizing the industry to hire even more of them – and to do so in a way that assures all of our stories make it on-screen.”

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