California lawmakers: Hollywood black female executive exit is ‘disturbing pattern’

California lawmakers said Thursday the departures of high-profile black female executives in Hollywood is a “disturbing pattern,” particularly as the state has extended its film and television tax credits.

“It’s a pattern that shows the early strides we made together with this industry to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion above and below borders are now stalling,” said Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas ( D-Los Angeles) said at a press briefing by the California Legislative Black Caucus.

Smallwood-Cuevas is among lawmakers calling for more responses from film studios and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who on Monday signed a bill into law that would extend the state’s $330 million a year film and television tax credit by five years, through May Fiscal year 2030 extended -31. The tax credits would create an estimated 60,000 jobs and $10 billion in investments. The Black Caucus said it plans to meet with the governor, film industry executives and working partners in the coming months to urge studios to provide more data on their diversity efforts and deliver “real results.”

The call to action highlights tensions between California lawmakers and film studios over the lack of diversity that has long plagued Hollywood. Concerns about diversity have increased after the US Supreme Court scrapped race-based college incentives in June.

“It’s a slap in the face, not just for women. It’s a slap in the face to people of color,” said Rep. Mike Gipson (D-Carson).

After the 2020 killing of George Floyd, diversity efforts have been ramped up across various industries, but Hollywood is still struggling to make its workforce more diverse. In 2022, whites made up 78% of the leading actors in top motion pictures, up from 72.4% in 2019, according to a UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report. At the same time, as Hollywood studios released fewer films, opportunities for people of color also dwindled.

Mass layoffs across industries have also hit diversity, equity and inclusion jobs harder than others. Diversity and inclusion jobs might include roles that help improve a company’s culture through events, policies, and projects. As of December 2022, the rate at which employees in DEI roles left a company, voluntarily or involuntarily, was 33%, compared to 21% for non-DEI roles, according to a study learn by Revelio Labs, a New York workforce intelligence company.

In June, four high-profile Hollywood executives who are black women left major companies including Warner Bros. Discovery, Walt Disney Co. and Netflix. The exit of executives focused on diversity, equality and inclusion efforts sparked concerns among insiders and advocates that promises to make Hollywood more diverse are just empty promises. Officials from Disney, Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery say their diversity efforts are real. The Motion Picture Assn. and the governor’s office did not immediately have comment.

California’s film and television tax credits, which will be recoverable by 2025, include diversity requirements, but some lawmakers say those aren’t enough. For example, studios must present a diversity work plan that “broadly” reflects the population of California if they wish to receive the full tax credit. Recipients of the tax credit would report information to the California Film Commission, including how the project met or made good faith efforts to comply with the diversity work plan. Under the legislation, an expert on diversity, equity and inclusion in the film industry would also be added to the CFC board.

During negotiations for the film tax credit, Smallwood-Cuevas said she had urged the film industry to introduce systems that measured labor retention so lawmakers could track progress in Hollywood’s diversification, but the film studios resisted the idea.

Lawmakers said they intend to take legislative action to include tracking of this information in the film tax credit.

If the data shows that Hollywood isn’t making progress on diversity, Smallwood-Cuevas says lawmakers need to reconsider state investments.

“I think it takes time to recognize such trends,” she said in an interview. “But what doesn’t help is when the leadership of this work is totally wiped out.”

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