Whiting Out Hollywood: Fewer People of Color Hired for Film and TV

By Yvonne Yen Liu Oct 27, 2009

Quick, name the most recent movies you saw. Here at RaceWire, the unrepentant nerds that some of us are, we’ve eagerly skipped an afternoon of work to watch Harry Potter, awaited the release of Star Trek: The First Generation, deconstructed the five most unintentionally racist movies about racism (yup, Driving Miss Daisy is up there), and pondered Disney’s racist and sexist princess problem. Did we miss the color in Harry Potter? Were there multiracial students at Hogwarts that we didn’t catch on screen because we blinked? Turns out, not. Last Friday, the Screen Actors Guild confirmed some of our longstanding suspicions: Hollywood is getting whiter. SAG looked at casting reports from 2007-2008 and found that the number of people of color hired for film and television roles declined in that period. The number of people of color on screen dropped to 27.5% of total roles cast in 2008. The numbers confirm the whiting out of Hollywood, across all racialized groups. Blacks were the largest nonwhite group cast, according to SAG, but also lost the most roles in 2008, dropping from 14.8% to 13.3%. Latino roles decreased slightly, losing most in the lead role category. A Latino starred in 7.2% of features in 2007. Only 3.4% were the main characters in 2008. American Indians, despite their romance with the silver screen, had the fewest jobs, at 0.3% in both years. Let’s turn towards this weekend’s top three box office flicks. Now, why couldn’t ghosts of color have been cast for Paranormal Activity, the top earner. Surely, when we die, we become restless spirits too, who haunt white, professional couples who move in and gentrify our neighborhoods. I’m not touching Saw VI, being allergic to the horror and slasher porn genre. And, no, the monsters are not Black or Brown in Where the Wild Things Are. “The diverse and multicultural world we live in today is still not accurately reflected in the portrayals we see on the screen,” says Ken Howard, SAG President, on the release of the results. Read more about their findings here. Why aren’t we represented on the big screen? Why is Hollywood so resistant to the fact that by 2042, this country will be so-called majority minority, a time when just 27.5% of the actors on screen are people of color just won’t cut it? What’s an unemployed actor of color going to do? More importantly, how will a youth of color feel when all the faces she sees at the movies aren’t like hers? What do you think? Original photo by Water Winter Wonderland.