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McKinsey's report on how much it costs to ignore Black talent in Hollywood.

Spoiler alert: it's a lot! I saw it for myself as an intern 30 years ago at Warner Bros. Sadly, it hasn't changed in all of those years.

Here's a link to the article. You may have to sign up to read it (totally worth it) so here are a few highlights or lowlights:

  • The handful of Black creatives who are in prominent off-screen, “above the line” positions (that is, creator, producer, writer, or director) find themselves primarily responsible for providing opportunities for other Black off-screen talent. Unless at least one senior member of a production is Black, Black talent is largely shut out of those critical roles.

  • Emerging Black actors receive significantly fewer chances early in their careers to make their mark in leading roles, compared with white actors, and they have a lower margin for error.

  • Both film and TV still have very little minority representation among top management and boards; film in particular is less diverse than relatively homogenous sectors such as energy, finance, and transport.

  • A complex, interdependent value chain filled with dozens of hidden barriers and other pain points reinforces the racial status quo in the industry. Based on our research, we catalogued close to 40 specific pain points that Black professionals in film and TV regularly encounter as they attempt to build their careers.

Barriers that undermine equity in content development, financing, marketing, and distribution come at a substantial cost to the film and TV industry. We estimate that the film and TV industry could unlock more than $10 billion in annual revenues simply by addressing these barriers, the equivalent of a 7 percent expansion in baseline industry revenues.1 Our estimates are based on closing the representation deficit for Black off-screen talent, achieving production and marketing budget parity, and giving Black-led properties equal international distribution. As noted elsewhere in the article, these frictions that suppress industry revenues are unjustified with respect to performance.

For example, a recent report from Creative Artists Agency and Parrot Analytics found that the demand for shows where at least 40 percent of the cast is diverse (in line with the US Census estimate for the nonwhite population) has more than doubled in the last three years (more than 112 percent), outpacing the growth in the number of these shows that have made it to air (more than 42 percent).3

The lack of Black executives in film and TV has troubling knock-on effects throughout the industry. For example, as one Black executive explained, “Many former studio execs get production deals as independent producers affiliated with the studio, so whatever inequity is prevalent in the studios will carry over to the mix of producers.”

I can attest to this:

Financial. Breaking into the industry is often only possible following years of work without pay or for pay that is insufficient to cover basic necessities (for instance, paying off student loans or supporting less well-off family members). As one white executive acknowledged, when talent is just starting out, work in the industry is “considered a privileged apprenticeship. The pay is sh*tty and, let’s be honest, that rules certain people out from the job.” McKinsey research has shown that there is a wide and persistent gap in wealth between Black and white families in the United States, with the median Black family having about $150,000 less than the median white family. The result: low or no pay excludes many Black Americans from Hollywood from the start. Work in the industry also tends to be temporary and contract based, making it less accessible to those who do not have personal savings, an inheritance, or family money to fall back on.

Possibilities for a path forward

It will likely take sweeping, industry-wide changes to increase representation of Black talent in film and TV.

Increasing the amount of racial diversity and representation in film and TV is no small task. Overcoming the hidden barriers and cozy networks that still dominate the complex ecosystem will require sustained collaboration among many different organizations. A few have begun to take individual, discrete steps focused on increasing Black-led content, while Fortune 1000 companies pledged $66 billion last year to racial-equity initiatives in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. As encouraging as those moves are, however, it will likely take sweeping, industry-wide changes, perhaps spearheaded by an independent, third-party organization, to change this workplace.

1. Ensure diverse representation, especially among off-screen talent and executives

Key entities such as studios, networks, streaming companies, agencies, and production companies could aspire to achieve a specific target for Black and nonwhite representation across all levels and roles—including in the boardroom, which remains predominantly white—and make those goals public to hold themselves accountable. Matching the share of the US population that is Black (13.4 percent) and nonwhite (40 percent) would seem a logical place to start. Industry leaders could focus on increasing representation in important decision-making and gatekeeping positions, including hiring committees. They could also set intersectional targets, including for representation of Black women.


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