LOS ANGELES, FEB. 4 -- The NAACP quietly held meetings with entertainment industry executives today and Friday to examine the status of minority employment in the industry.
"We're really looking at whether or not there is discrimination and to what extent and why there aren't more blacks in the film industry," said Fred Rasheed, chairman of the NAACP's Film Industry Task Force and the New Jersey-based national director of the organization's economic development program.
Rasheed stressed that the purpose of the meetings was to gather information that probably will be used to create a report to be released in June. He declined to say how the information would be used but said, "One of the goals is to increase the utilization of blacks in the industry."
Task force members met with representatives of Paramount Studios and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Friday and with the Writers Guild of America West today. They are expected to meet with representatives of Warner Brothers as well.
The task force -- which includes NAACP National Chairman William Gibson as well as a local black scriptwriter, a black New York-based producer and several other non-industry people -- met late last summer with black actors, writers and producers.
And between this visit and the summer one, Rasheed said, he has made several others. "This is about the fourth or fifth time I've been out here for meetings with people associated with the industry," said Rasheed. "We have met with all the major studios once or twice. We've also begun to meet with some of the television networks." Rasheed declined to name the people or the companies.
"We're trying to find out specifically how blacks have participated in their companies as employees and as independent business people" involved in contract work with entertainment companies, he explained. "We've asked for statistics about their work force, about their independent production deals -- how many blacks do you have? In what positions? How many blacks have production deals? How many blacks are included in your deals for purchases?"
Asked whether studios are responding with the information, Rasheed said, "It's been mixed. We've met with some resistance from some of the studios." He noted that "all have been very cordial. Some have been more cooperative than others. Some studios have provided specific data and some haven't. But we're not going to give up, whether we get it from the studios or someone else."
J. Nicholas Counter III, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, called his meeting with the task force "productive ... in the sense that we discussed how the various union and guild agreements operate in terms of employment in the industry and how they impact the employment process. I think the representatives of the NAACP have a good knowledge of how those agreements work."
Jeff Wallace, the Writers Guild official who oversees programs for minority participation, said he has met periodically with NAACP officials. "We have an ongoing dialogue," he said. "We talk about progress or lack of it at particular companies."
Of the nearly 7,000 Writers Guild members, Wallace said, just under 3 percent are minorities. According to Wallace, an estimated 2.4 percent of the total membership is African American.
The quest to develop minority participation at a significant level in the entertainment business is hardly a new venture.
"I'm finding both in New York and out here that there are blacks who have experience who can't find work," Rasheed said. "When you talk to studios, they tell you they're training people. Well, that's fine, but what about the people who are already trained who can't find work? I was out here in '82 and '83 and I heard the same thing about training programs."
Officials of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch of the NAACP for years have investigated specific employment complaints and met periodically with entertainment industry officials. In fact, the branch, led by President Sandra Evers-Manly, embarked upon its own study of minorities in the entertainment industry and released a harsh preliminary report at the NAACP convention here last July.
That report concluded that there are fewer black entertainment executives and producers today than 10 years ago. "There's very little diversity in creative offices," Evers-Manly said Friday. "There are very few Afro-Americans. I shouldn't say 'few' -- what's the word for one?"
Evers-Manly said she also met a number of times with representatives of major studios in the past six months and had been close to releasing a report. But friction between her office and the national office has led her to delay it, at least temporarily. Rasheed confirmed that the national office has given a "cease and desist" order to the local branch's investigation of the entertainment industry. "We have a policy within the organization that local branches should not be carrying out this type of effort with national and international corporations," said Rasheed.