What the Anita Hill-Led Hollywood Commission Revealed

Oct 8, 2020 | Articles

Etan Vlessing | The Hollywood Reporter

“Men in Hollywood appear to inhabit a parallel universe,” the industry-funded commission concluded from a landmark worker survey.

The Anita Hill-led Hollywood Commission on Wednesday pointed to a wide gap in what the entertainment industry says it has done to close a diversity and inclusion gap in the workplace, and what it has achieved to date.

“Men in Hollywood appear to inhabit a parallel universe when it comes to their overwhelmingly positive perception of progress in welcoming and valuing diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives,” the Hollywood Commission, chaired by Hill and founded by Kathleen Kennedy and Nina Shaw, said as it released its second report from an industrywide worker survey.

The report revealed wide differences in the perceptions and experiences of bias and inclusion among men, women and other underrepresented groups in Hollywood. Women surveyed were around twice as likely as their male colleagues to say they had experienced biased or unfair behavior, according to the report.

And women of color cited even higher rates of diversity and inclusion bias, or unfair behavior, than their white counterparts. “To address bias, the industry must close gaps in awareness and provide tools to address behaviors in the workplace,” the report found.

To underscore a lack of progress, the commission provided anonymous quotes from respondents. “People hire who they’ve worked with before and don’t often give a chance or reach out to give a leg up to diverse people or new people,” said one quote.

“Hollywood has an insidious problem with both sexual harassment and discrimination. Racial discrimination and racist behaviors and beliefs are ingrained in the business, from casting on down. Most white writers will never identify race in scripts, save for non-white characters. The assumption becomes every character is white unless otherwise noted,” another anonymous respondent said.

The commission, funded by the industry, came together in 2017 to introduce protections against sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood’s workplaces in the wake of the #MeToo campaign. The report on workplace bias warned unfair behavior was costing the industry employee productivity and advancement opportunities.

Around 30 percent of bi- or multiracial women and roughly 22 percent of Black women told the online survey that they had been denied workplace opportunities given to others in similar circumstances.

“The entertainment industry has the unique potential to tell the stories of today’s richly diverse world. But to get there, the barriers to underrepresented people being valued and in ‘the room where it happens’ must be eliminated. And once they do get into ‘the room where it happens,’ they must not be the only one,” Hill, a professor at Brandeis University who brought national exposure to the issue of sexual harassment during the 1991 Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said in a statement.

Her commission’s report said 75 percent of men surveyed said progress had been made in welcoming people from diverse communities into the entertainment workplace, compared to 63 percent of women who responded to the online study. “White men have the most positive view of progress in diversity (78 percent), followed by Black or African African men (67 percent),” the report found.

Women differed, however, on the question of industry progress, with 66 percent of white women, 50 percent of biracial women, and 47 percent of Black or African American women agreeing with the opinion that Hollywood had made progress in welcoming people from underrepresented communities.

The commission’s report concluded that the entertainment industry has an “urgent need for organizations to adopt expanded measures to drive diversity and inclusion and to be held accountable to making those measurable changes.”

To accelerate closing Hollywood’s bias and diversity gap, the commission is piloting bystander training with 450 entertainment workers to address and intervene when harassment and bias occurs in the workplace, and to end a culture of silence around the issue.

The commission also recommends “the entertainment industry establish organizational commitment to and accountability for bias, diversity and inclusion.”