Two years after the "#OscarsSoWhite campaign raised awareness of the lack of minorities in lead acting roles in Hollywood, many Industry observers are praising the diversity represented in the 2017 awards season. But some insiders tell NBC4 that discrimination remains a career-limiting reality for minorities seeking work on crews that operate behind the scenes.
Studios and production companies employ thousands of artisans, from lighting techs to boom operators, on television and film sets, positions referred to as "below the line." But men and women of color make up a small percentage of those hired, according to executives and crew members interviewed by the I-Team.
"The crews are still mostly white, and they're still mostly male," said Brad Simpson, a partner at "Color Force," the production company behind "The Hunger Games" movies and "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. "I think that's a problem everyone needs to start addressing."
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Many minorities who manage to find a job on a crew find the bias continues even after they're hired.
"If you're African American, they call you 'bro,' which is probably not a big deal to them," said director Matthew Cherry, a former NFL player who started out as a production assistant in Hollywood. "But those are things that just kind of subconsciously remind you of your loner position on the set as a person of color."
"If you're already dealing with a set of 100 people — and literally this was my experience on almost every set," Cherry said. "One of them is a person of color, maybe three women."
"We looked weird compared to the rest of the crew," recalls Norya Benitez about her first job, where she realized she one of the only two Latinos on a production set.
Cherry and Benitez are both graduates of "Streetlights," a non-profit program that trains young adult minorities, many economically and socially disadvantages, to find jobs in the entertainment industry. Former producer Dorothy Thompson founded the organization in the wake of the 1992 L.A. riots.
"[I realized] there was never a minority in my entire career who had worked with me on the set," said Thompson.
A 2015 Streetlights survey of commercial sets found that 95 percent of nearly 2000 jobs were held by Caucasians.
To change that reality, Thompson and her team coach dozens of students every year to prepare for entry-level production assistant jobs, then helps them find positions on sets. The ultimate goals is getting them into a union like the International of Theatrical State Employees (IATSE), which represents the majority of below-the-line union employees in Hollywood. But Thompson says IATSE has been slow to include more minorities in its ranks.
A spokeswoman for IATSE declined to comment.
In 2014, the New York Attorney General investigated IATSE Local 52, which represents film and TV crewmembers employed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware, for claims the union had denied membership to African Americans and Latinos. IATSE agreed to a settlement, which included restructuring its admission process.
The I-Team requested information on minority hiring efforts from Disney, Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount/Viacom, Sony, NBCUniversal, Warner Brothers, and The Weinstein Company, and is waiting for responses.
A recent report conducted by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that since 2007, across 800 films and 886 directors, only 4 percent were women — the equivalent of 24 male directors hired for every one woman.