TV Must Tackle Diversity, Too

As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nervously awaits the reaction to Sunday’s Academy Awards show amid the simmering controversy over the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations, the television community is slowly moving toward recognizing the quality and value of diverse content.

Television networks are increasingly embracing diversity through the greenlighting and launching of numerous quality comedies, dramas, mini-series and movies featuring people of color in leading roles. It’s no secret that African-American and Hispanic viewers by far watch more hours of television than any group, so providing content that reflects the makeup of the TV audience, like ABC’s Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, Starz’s Power and Hulu’s East Los High, is smart business.

Those quality performances have begun to get their well-deserved due during award season thus far in 2016.

Actors of diverse backgrounds were recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press during the annual Golden Globe awards. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal won for best comedy performance for his starring role in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, while veteran actress Taraji Henson took home best actress in a TV drama series for her portrayal of sassy Cookie Lyon on Fox’s hit series Empire.

Diversity was the big winner at last month’s Screen Actors Guild Awards as shows with multicultural casts (Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black) as well as individual actors of color (Idris Elba, who won two SAG awards, Queen Latifah, Viola Davis, Uzo Aduba) who won in several major categories.

That’s not to say that all is well on the diversity front on the small screen.

Only 26% of series regulars on broadcast, cable and streaming services were from “underrepresented” racial ethnic groups, according to the recently released USC Annenberg Comprehensive Report on Diversity in Entertainment.

Further, 90% of all directors of the premiere episodes for every live-action broadcast television show was white, while streaming and cable shows came in at 88% and 83%, respectively, according to the report.

What the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and television’s improving-yet-not-great diversity record shows is that there's a lot of room for improvement and a need to continue the dialogue on the issue of diversity in entertainment.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.