Culture

New Congressional Caucus Will Promote Diversity in Film, TV Industry

Mahershala Ali of "Moonlight," Emma Stone of "La La Land," Viola Davis of "Fences" and Casey Affleck of "Manchester by the Sea" display their Oscars at the 89th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2017. (Lionel Hahn/Sipa via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced Tuesday the formation of a new congressional caucus to focus on diversity in Hollywood.

Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), who serve as co-chairs and expect to add membership in the coming weeks, said the Congressional Caucus for Advancement of Studio, Talent and Film Diversity “aims to focus on increasing further opportunities for representation of minorities in the film and television industries.”

Ros-Lehtinen said she hopes the caucus will “initiate a movement that helps create diversity in Hollywood.”

“Minorities are severely under-represented within the film industry and there is room for more faces that accurately represent our nation,” she said in a statement. “It is important for our youth to have role models that they can relate and look up to, serving as inspirations for their future dreams whether to be actors/actresses, directors, or writers. By working together in Congress, we can unite in a bipartisan manner to provide further opportunities to minorities in the film industry.

Ruiz said that films showing America’s various cultures in a positive light inspire young people.

“There’s no better way to fulfill this vision then by increasing the diversity of on camera and off camera roles, so that actors and writers reflect the diverse community who watch their programs,” he said.

Last year, Johnson and House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) asked the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to follow through on a pledge to diversify membership after the 2016 Oscars featured all white nominees in the acting categories.

In a letter to Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, they cited Motion Picture Association of America’s Theatrical Market Statistics that note African-Americans comprised almost a quarter of the audience for 2014’s top grossing films. But, they added, less than five percent of the Academy is African- American. “Surely, more audiences would be drawn to films that are more reflective of the heterogeneous nature of the audience.”

“A continuing failure to recognize such an important segment of the population by the industry in general and the Academy in particular may have a negative effect on competition and diversity in this critical market place,” Conyers and Johnson wrote.

This week, Johnson acknowledged his challenge to the Academy last year and added that “the underlying problem has not gone away” despite African-American winners at this year’s Oscars, including Best Picture “Moonlight.”

“Minorities are underrepresented in all key roles in both behind and in front of the camera,” Johnson said. “The motion picture industry has long been a crucial ally in the fight for justice and served as a long time vehicle to give people a better understanding of other people and cultures around the world. This industry has the potential to break down barriers and stereotypes.”