Magazine article Variety

A Century-Old Diversity Quest

Magazine article Variety

A Century-Old Diversity Quest

Article excerpt

When Variety began, the entertainment industry was mostly live theater, circuses and vaudeville - and minstrel shows. Later, blacks were at the forefront in demanding equality in the entertainment industry and were followed by groups representing Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and women.

For better or worse, showbiz has always been a microcosm of the world. While black stars like Louis Armstrong were celebrated for their art, they were still denied access to hotels, drinking fountains and restaurants.

Many minorities were (and are) victimized by institutionalized prejudice. If anyone doubts that, it only requires a quick look at Variety's 111 years of publication to find the proof.

The history of showbusiness is a history of bias, which can be broken down into three general eras: Humiliation (1905-42) when grossly demeaning terms like "coon" and vile treatment were "normal"; protest (1942-49), when voices were raised in simple requests that demeaning stereotypes and racist images be removed from entertainment; and the struggle for equality (19492016), when groups began confronting the absence of people of color in key above- and belowthe-line fields. For those who still don't quite understand the fury behind the current demands for change, it should be noted that this third phase is now approaching its 70th year.

DEC. 31,1915

"Still Fighting 'Birth'"

D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" was a money-making bonanza, but inspired protests in many cities. Variety reported on a hearing in Detroit over the "Barnett Ordinance," which proposed a ban on movies and plays that were "immoral or raceprejudice." At a public hearing, more than 100 theater owners weighed in, and "leading Negroes took a prominent part opposing the film." The latter group was ignored and the ordinance was withdrawn.

JUNE 17,1942

"Want Negroes Treated Normally in Films"

Walter White (above left, with Hattie McDaniel and Arthur Spingarn) of the NAACP scheduled a series of meetings with film studios seeking "an end to Hollywood's traditional portrayal of Negroes as superstitiously fearful of spooks." The organization "hopes to persuade studios to represent Negroes according to their normal place in the world."

APRIL 10,1962

"Crasher, Pickets Enliven Acad Show"

The Oscar ceremonies at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium were picketed by Hollywood Race Relations Croup, led by Caleb Peterson. One protester carried a sign reading "All Negroes Want a Break." The Santa Monica Police Dept, arrested 10 people for trespassing.

JULY 22,1963

"Demand Negro in Tech Crews"

"The foundation has been laid for what could be the turning point in the negro's stepped-up campaign for greater opportunity in Hollywood. …

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