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Black, Latino Roles Up, Say SAG Figures

Current employment statistics released last week by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) revealed an increase in roles going to African-American and Latino performers in 1999. SAG's figures also showed more roles going to men than women, and to younger performers under 40 years of age.

The roles for Latino performers increased dramatically, reaching the highest percentage since the guild began tracking such statistics in 1992. But the number of roles for both Native American Indian and Asian/Pacific Islander performers remained unchanged from 1998.

The information for these statistics are based on all television and theatrical productions that are reported to the guild via the Casting Data Report. SAG contracts do not include daytime television, game shows, animated programs, or most non-prime time programming. For 1999, 49,662 roles were signed to guild contracts, a decrease of 12.4% from the 56,715 roles cast under guild contracts in 1998.

The findings come in addition to the Screen Actors Guild release "The African American Television Report," authored by Dr. Darnell Hunt, director of African-American studies at the University of Southern California, and a groundbreaking study on Latinos entitled "Still Missing: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood" by Dr. Harry Pachon of the Tomas Rivera Institute. These SAG-commissioned reports have never been done within the entertainment industry and offer insights into Latino/Hispanic and African-Americans as both performers and audience participants.

SAG President William Daniels was encouraged by the increase in the numbers for Latinos and African-Americans. "The American portrayal in films and television is moving slowly but steadily toward the reality of our American scene," Daniels said. "We are delighted to see that African-American roles are back up to their 1997 level and that Latinos are at a new high. It is our hope to see these statistics even higher in 2000."

Breakdown by Ethnicity

An ethnic breakdown of the SAG casting data indicates that 21% of the roles in 1999 went to performers of color, surpassing the 1998 total of 19%. In other words, 10,365 roles went to African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders, or Native American Indians in 1999. However, the data only examines the quantity of the roles, not the quality of roles that are cast.

Significant increases in roles for African Americans and Latinos/ Hispanics occurred. African Americans were cast in 14.1% of the roles in 1999, compared to 13.4% in 1998. Likewise, Latinos cast in 1999 productions reached their highest ever percentage of 4.4%, compared to 3.5% in 1998. Although this number is much lower than the 11.5% that Latinos comprise in the American population, the increase in roles for Latinos was the biggest for any ethnic group in 1999.

The percentage of roles for both Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native American Indians remained stagnant from 1998 to 1999. Asian Americans comprised 2.2% of the roles while Native American Indians comprised 0.2%; yet their percentages in the American population are 3.8% and 0.7% respectively. In addition, performers of these ethnicities were twice as likely to be cast as supporting rather than lead roles.

Gender and Age

Although women make up the majority of Americans, men comprised 62% of the roles cast in 1999.

These numbers are similar to data found in previous years. In addition, men had almost twice as many roles and worked more than twice as many days as women in roles cast for TV/theatrical projects in 1999.

People under the age of 40 are favored in the entertainment industry. More than twice as many roles were cast with actors who were under the age of 40 than actors who were 40 or over, although Americans who are 40 and over comprise 42% of the American population.

Older women are affected by ageism to a greater degree than older men. Women over the age of 40 were cast in only 24% of the roles for women, compared to 73% of the roles cast for women who were under the age of 40. Furthermore, leading women over the age of 40 comprised only one-fifth of the roles for women in 1999.

Daniels Both Pleased, Disturbed

Although pleased with the increase in African-American and Latino SAG roles, Guild President Daniels was disturbed by the overall casting trends. He cited a number of programs that SAG has undertaken to address the inequities in casting.

Over the past years, the guild issued a series of talent directories aimed at promoting employment access within the entertainment industry. There are separate directory listings for African-American performers, Latino/Hispanic performers, Asian/Pacific Islander performers, Native American Indian performers as well as Performers with Disabilities, and Stunt Performers of Color.

In conjunction with the SAG-Producer's Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund (IACF), SAG commissioned The African-American Television Report, which is the most comprehensive study to date of the quantity and content of African-American portrayals on primetime television. In addition, SAG and the IACF commissioned Missing In Action: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood, which examines the representation of Latinos in the media as well as Latinos as audience members.

Currently two other studies are being conducted: Casting the American Scene: An Analysis of Aging on Prime Time Television by Dr. George Gerbner of Temple University and An Analysis of the Employment of Performers with Disabilities in the Entertainment Industry to be conducted by Dr. Olivia Raynor of the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA.

According to Dr. Patricia Heisser Metoyer, executive administrator for affirmative action at SAG, "Simply put, the changing face of American society is not being reflected back to the American public by its media. These recent casting data statistics support the claim that most non-Caucasian performers are underrepresented in the media compared to their percentages in the American population."

SAG's Daniels concluded, "We hope to convince industry insiders that diversity can improve their bottom line—and they need look no further than the Screen Actors Guild for highly competent performers. We believe many producers and programmers are missing opportunities to reach a larger, broader audience through more diverse casting."

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