LOS ANGELES - A coalition pushing for greater ethnic diversity on television said Thursday the picture is brighter, with one network even earning A-plus grades for hiring more Hispanic actors and producers.
But the four major broadcast networks must increase and intensify their efforts to reflect the diversity of America, including Asian-Americans and American Indians, the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition said.
"We've had five years of doing this and we can see the trend is upward, always upward, but slowly," said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, part of the multi-ethnic coalition.
Among areas of improvement for Hispanics on prime-time programming: ABC, given A-plus marks for its inclusion of Hispanic stars, writers and producers; an A-plus to CBS for the number of Hispanics in recurring roles and an A-plus to Fox for Hispanic directors.
Networks received overall grades, with ABC and Fox earning Bs, CBS getting a C-plus and NBC earning a C. Other subcategories included Hispanic casting in reality shows, with NBC earning an F.
Asian-Americans and American Indians have less to celebrate, according to the coalition. (Black representation on TV is monitored by the NAACP, which did not participate in the coalition evaluation.)
"Native Americans are the invisible Americans. We're not acknowledged anywhere," said Mark Reed, coalition co-chairman. The ABC miniseries "Dreamkeeper" included rare contemporary American Indian characters, he said.
"We're still stuck in the era of leather and feathers," Reed said.
For Asian-Americans, some progress in the management ranks has yet to result in increased on-screen depictions, said Karen Narasaki, chairman of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.
"What's become clearer to us is it's much harder to change the industry. There are some real barriers to entry that we haven't been able to break," she said. All the networks earned overall Cs on Asian-American diversity.
Narasaki cited disappointment over two new series that blew an opportunity for hiring Asian-American actors: NBC's police drama "Hawaii" and Fox's "North Shore."
Despite their Hawaiian settings, neither reflected the state's majority Asian-American population, Narasaki said.
"In 'North Shore,' only one of the eight (lead) characters was Asian-American, and he was the bartender. 'Hawaii' had even less diversity than 'Hawaii Five-O' did, which was 20 years ago," she said.
When she complained to one Fox executive, Narasaki said, she was told that a reason for the lack of Asian-American actors was that they would have to spend a lot of time "scantily clad."
"I said, 'So Asians don't look good scantily clad? I just came back from Hawaii and they look pretty damn good.'"
In 1999, a nearly all-white schedule of new network series provoked an outcry from civil rights groups and boycott threats, leading to agreements by broadcasters to improve their performance.
ABC said Thursday it welcomed the recognition of its progress behind the scenes and on the air and would continue its commitment to "improvement in all areas across the network."
Fox and CBS also said they appreciated recognition of network advancements and would continue their efforts to create more diversity in all areas.
NBC did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
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