A black and Hispanic boycott of television and film seems likely if the industry continues to portray minorities in stereotypical roles, a Hill hearing was told yesterday.
"Such callous, willful disrespect and unfair treatment by the telecommunications industry may not, by itself, cause a long hot summer," said actor Robert Hooks, "but it could bring about a long, cold winter, in which blacks and other minorities combine their resources, collectively deciding not to patronize the film and broadcast industry, collectively deciding not to support those advertising sponsors."
Last year the NAACP threatened to boycott major film studios that did not give blacks reasonable access to performing and production jobs. The threatened boycott never materialized.
Hooks, chairman of the National Alliance for Black Advancement in Communication, joined actor Sidney Poitier, actress Sumi Huru, writer Maya Angelou, Northeastern Illinois University professor J. Fred MacDonald and eight other speakers before the House Energy and Commerce telecommunications subcommittee on minorities in the media.
According to Willis Edwards, president of the Hollywood chapter of the NAACP, of the 103 actors participating in the networks' new fall shows, eight are members of minority groups.
Arnold S. Torres, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said a Corpus Christi State University study found that of 17 television programs viewed on one day in March, only nine out of 263 characters were Hispanic.
"I think the congressman from Dallas would agree with me," he said, referring to Rep. John Bryant (D-Tex.), "that in Dallas it's pretty hard not to see a Hispanic walking on the street, and they're not just maids. But on 'Dallas,' you don't see any Hispanics--we're not even ranchhands on that show.
"We spoke to 'Good Morning America' about this problem," Torres said. "They said they were having Jose' Feliciano on next week and was that Hispanic enough for us?"
Jachelene DeMave, a spokeswoman for ABC, which produces "Good Morning America," said when asked about Torres' statement, "Nobody would say that to him, not in a million years."
"Good Morning America" broadcast a report on Aug. 29 on minorities in the media. "We had the actor from 'Hill Street Blues' and the actress from 'Room 222,' " said DeMave. "In fact, we've had that actor Rene Enriquez on twice and he was eloquent in each instance. He was so eloquent I typed up the transcript and sent it out to the Hispanic press."
The telecommunications subcommittee is discussing legislation that would amend the guidelines used by the Federal Communications Commission in reviewing radio and TV licenses. The Senate passed a deregulation bill earlier this year and the House is expected to introduce legislation by mid-October. Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.) organized the hearings to discuss the subject of minorities in the media in general and the effects of deregulation on minorities in the media in particular.
No more than five congressmen were present at any point in the hearings, and those who did attend asked generally sympathetic questions.
The entertainers criticized the industry for failing to portray minorities as, in Huru's words, "integral parts of our nation's mainstream." They also agreed that minorities' involvement in TV and film has decreased since the mid-'70s, and that deregulation threatens further erosion.
"There is a growing suspicion in the minority community that a conspiracy exists among the producers, networks and studios to exclude minorities from fair and meaningful participation in motion pictures and TV programming," Poitier told the committee.
As four of the witnesses completed their prepared statements, they made the same points, each of them concluding with a call for the committee to "pursue the enactment of legislation, guaranteeing that a fair and equitable allocation of the dollars spent for the creation of programming be allocated to contracts with minority-owned and -controlled production companies."
"The data simply supports the fact that black artists do not work in film and television," Angelou said. "Our culture is in desperate need of redemption."
Los Angeles producer Mocpezuma Esparza told the committee, "The core of the problem, as I have seen it, is the almost total absence of minorities in the executive suites, not to mention the board rooms, of the studios and networks."