New York's Bill To Encourage Diversity In TV Production Is Such A Necessary Step
Listen up, all you other states. New York might pass a pro-diversity tax credit, and that is exactly the kind of change we need to implement industry-wide. It hasn't officially been made into law yet, but a bill just passed through the legislature that would encourage the hiring of more women and people of color behind the camera. Basically, it would entitle TV productions with diverse staffs to a tax cut of up to $5 million, which adds some pretty solid incentives in hiring. Ideally, everyone would already prioritize women and people of color during that process, because we already know that diverse storytellers lead to diverse stories. But, in a world like the entertainment industry, which is weighted so heavily toward the white and male, old habits die hard. It takes a lot to challenge the status quo, but this bill could be a step forward. After all, one of the things that can help change people's minds in a hurry is money.
For a long time, there was a falsely-held belief that diverse leads didn't translate into high earnings, particularly overseas, but a recent study has proved that false. According to the 2016 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, films with more inclusive casts not only perform up to the same level as predominantly-white features, but beyond them. They found that projects with a cast made up of 41-50 percent POCs made on average $69 million more than films where minorities represented less than 10 percent of the cast. It makes sense when you consider that around half the country's movie tickets are purchased by people of color. And yet, for some reason, it's a new and novel concept to consider the real life demographics, let alone attempt to match them.
It becomes even more bizarre when you consider how those numbers have translated to television as well. In that same study, UCLA's Bunche Center found that TV shows with "majority non-white casts" were the highest-rated among that coveted 18-49 audience bracket. And you have only to look to women and people of color in the industry to hear what a difference in storytelling it makes to have their viewpoints represented behind the camera.
When she became the first female director to get a budget over $100 million, Ava DuVernay's excitement was tinged with regret. In a tweet, she called it "a shame" that she was the one to break this barrier, noting that, "Hollywood and audiences have missed some wonderful voices." For her part, in a speech at Glamour's 2015 Woman of the Year Gala, actress-turned-producer Reese Witherspoon noted that she prefers to be on sets where she can connect with other women. When she's the only woman, it's a different vibe, but Witherspoon shares that that's not the only reason to make it a priority in hiring: "Films with women at the center are not a public service project; they are a big time, bottom-line-enhancing, money-making commodity."
And if you need even more proof of how diversity behind the camera can strengthen the representation of diversity in front of the camera, just look at how eager Warner Bros. reportedly was to lock down Patty Jenkins for the Wonder Woman sequel in light of her record-breaking success on the original. When you get women and people of color both in front of the camera and behind it, it pays off in the finished product.
So, targeting the hiring process to encourage that diversification early on is a good way to go. If there's a cold hard cash benefit to bringing on a female director or adding a person of color to the writing staff, it begins the process of change in the earliest stage via positive reinforcement. Ideally, diverse staffs would be the norm instead of the goal, but, until we get to that point, we need pieces of legislation like this one to come at the issue from another angle.
The Rundown With Robin Thede host Robin Thede, who helped fight for the bill, reinforced this idea in a statement to Buzzfeed. "This is a tremendous victory for not only women and people of color in entertainment, but also for New York State and our industry as a whole," she said. "Diversity behind the camera is just as important (and profitable!) as in front of the camera and, right now, we can't get in the same rooms as everyone else. This bill just levels the playing field for incredibly qualified and talented creatives."
And while it won't be a done deal until New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs it into law, this bill has incredible momentum behind it. It was backed by both the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, and there's a similar bill working its way through the California legislature right now. Plus, it's not that crazy of an ask: New York State gets $420 million in film tax credits, so this would be a very modest allocation. Buzzfeed reports that the bill hasn't yet crossed Governor Cuomo's desk, but that it's under review by his office.
This kind of forward movement is long overdue, so here's hoping that everything goes to plan. We've missed out on too many diverse perspectives for too long.