• NBCUniversal will not air the 2022 Golden Globes after a diversity and ethics scandal.
  • Collective organizing by prominent industry players led to the reckoning.
  • Here are three other ways to increase diversity in the media and entertainment industry.

NBCUniversal will not air the 2022 Golden Globes, the network announced Tuesday, ending a decades-long practice of covering the film and television awards show run by the nonprofit Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).

The decision comes after the revelation, first reported by The Los Angeles Times in February, that the organization lacked diversity. The investigation found that out of 87 members, not one was Black. The report also found that the organization had engaged in unethical practices, including benefits received by some members.

This move represents an important and public moment for accountability in the media and entertainment industry and could have implications for the larger movement to increase diversity in the industry and society as a whole.

Holding Hollywood accountable

A concerted push from public-relations firms representing the industry played a large role in NBCUniversal’s decision to not broadcast the 2022 Golden Globe Awards.

Following The Los Angels Times article, 100 entertainment PR firms representing actors and content creators across the industry signed a letter calling for HFPA “to swiftly manifest profound and lasting change to eradicate...discriminatory behavior, unprofessionalism, ethical impropriety and alleged financial corruption endemic to the HFPA, funded by Dick Clark Productions, MRC, NBCUniversal and Comcast.”

They later issued another letter stating, “We will continue to refrain from any HFPA sanctioned events, including press conferences, unless and until these issues are illuminated in detail with a firm commitment to a timeline that respects the looming 2022 season reality.”

The collective pressure put on the HFPA falls in a long line of calls for dire structural changes in Hollywood so that actors and content creators are treated, remunerated and represented equitably in the industry.

UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report shows that 86% of studios’ film unit heads are white and 69% male. Hashtags such as #metoo and #oscarssowhite have led to greater transparency and accountability in the media industry, calling for an end to sexual harassment and a need to underscore Hollywood’s dismal track record on increased racial and gender representation in roles on and off camera. Publicizing that 89% of Oscar nominations in the past decade went to white people ultimately prompted the Academy to institute diversity criteria to qualify for an Oscar nomination.

Oscar award nominations by race
Image: Business Insider

A broader story of change

Stories created by the media are some of the most pervasive and powerful influences to shape societal narratives and norms around gender, race, ability or sexual orientation.

According to Ofcom, adults in the UK spent nearly 6.5 hours a day watching TV or streaming services. The omnipresence of these media images strongly informs the worldview of the consumer. So when diversity is lacking in media, it can have a serious effect on society.

In the 1970s, the researcher George Gerbner coined the term “symbolic annihilation” to describe the absence of representation or underrepresentation of certain groups in the media. The lack of representation, underrepresentation and misrepresentation of disadvantaged groups has been found to affect our attitudes, increase bias, promote stereotypes and perpetuate social inequality.

Furthermore, the annihilation and negative portrayal can influence the self-view of people with under-represented identities. A 2012 study analyzed the correlation between representation on TV and its impact on children’s self-esteem. It found that watching TV only boosts the self-esteem of white boys but damaged the self-esteem for all other demographics.

Because of this unique representational power of media, changing to more inclusive narratives and portrayals in those fields is a major avenue towards advancing equality and human rights.

But addressing the systemic inequities and exclusions in the industry will not only foster social cohesion but can also boost the economy. A recent McKinsey study about Black representation in film and TV found that the entertainment industry could unlock a potential $10 billion annually by removing the barriers for greater equity. This would require the whole industry eco-system (from studios and agencies to critics, awards and film festivals) to double down on efforts for greater corporate diversity (organizational workplace policies), in-content diversity (representation and portrayal in the output) and creative diversity (behind the camera/contributors and creators of content).

The following three impact areas can contribute to create change in the industry:

1. Building equitable pathways to opportunities at work

Industry players need to put in place policies and programmes for more diverse representation across all seniority levels and roles. According to McKinsey, Black talent currently makes up only 6.6% of above-the-line roles for films (creator, producer, writer or director). To ensure greater diversity, industry leaders need to expand candidate search capabilities to target racially diverse communities, schools, job boards and networks.

Concepts like “colour-blind” casting – casting of actors regardless of their racial identity – has been famously championed by Lin Manuel Miranda in the musical “Hamilton” and defined new industry standards. Other actions can include the establishment of mentorship, sponsorship and career path planning programs for diverse talent.

2. Establishing accountability and responsibility through inclusive metrics and reporting

Transparent analysis and monitoring programs help to benchmark diversity, equity and inclusion across an organization, measure behaviors which create exclusion, and understand employee experience and engagement levels. To hold decision-makers accountable, this can mean establishing equality impact assessment of pay and progression equity, or tying executive bonuses to diversity targets. Industry players should also establish explicit policies prohibiting discrimination, microaggressions and harassment as well as reporting mechanisms.

3. Investing in creative diversity

At the heart of the industry is its content and stories and the amplification of authentic voices. Industry leaders need to build structures that allow for all voices to be heard and seen, and create frameworks to help diverse storytellers, producers and directors succeed at all levels of the industry.

This requires targeted investments and interventions to increase diverse content and talent, an example being the BBC’s Creative Diversity Fund. The company committed to spend £100 million of its commissioning budget over the next three years on diverse content, and it set a mandatory 20% diverse-talent target in all new commissions.

In the case of the Golden Globes, collective organizing led to a significant indicator of change for the industry - one that could trickle down to affect viewers at home. Though a great deal of progress still needs to be made, there's hope that the growing level of commitment to accountability and transparency will eventually bend unjust practices towards greater equity and inclusion.