Women at the Top in the Entertainment Industry

By Norment, Lynn | Ebony, March 1993 | Go to article overview

Women at the Top in the Entertainment Industry


Norment, Lynn, Ebony


THE multibillion-dollar entertainment industry is still a mans world. Talented Black women occasionally dominate the music charts, get top television ratings and great movie reviews, but behind the scenes the movers and shakers are almost always male and White.

In recent years, a handful of dynamic Black women have maneuvered past obstacles to land in decision-making positions in an industry that is trendy and unpredictable.

Oprah Winfrey, CEO of Harpo Entertainment Group, has built an entertainment empire anchored by her popular talk show. Forbes magazine listed her as the world's second highest-paid entertainer, behind Bill Cosby, with earnings of $88 million in 1991-92. And her show doesn't appear to be affected by the talkshow competition that has emerged in the past year.

At the same time, Sylvia Rhone has worked her way through the ranks of the recording industry to the position of CEO/chairman of East West Records America, whose parent company is the giant Atlantic Records. Rhone has the final word concerning a growing roster of artists, including En Vogue and Gerald Levert. And there's Suzanne De Passe, one of the most respected executives in the entertainment industry. After 20 years with Motown and Berry Gordy, the savvy writer/producer has molded De Passe Entertainment into a notable production company and is now expanding into artist management.

While their jobs require more creativity and pizzazz than most positions in corporate America, female entertainment bosses emphasize that when it comes to the executive suites, show business can be stereotypically conservative.

When asked what obstacles face Black women in corporate entertainment, Winifred Hervey-Stallworth, executive producer of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, says: "Sexism, racism and the lack of creative freedom." Her professional colleagues echo these sentiments; several mentioned that sexism often is more of a problem than racism.

Lisa Jackson, executive vice president/general manager of Spike Lees 40 Acres 'And A Mule Musicworks, says White men are still the decision makers. "But there are and there have always been intelligent, dedicated, creative women making integral contributions to this growing industry," she adds, "many who have managed to do so while meeting the demands of both careers and families." However, says Jackson, too few Black women are in positions to actually make decisions that affect company budgets, priorities, policies and commitments.

Jackson is one of those, and so is June M. Baldwin, senior vice president, business affairs, for Quincy Jones Entertainment in Los Angeles. Baldwin says that while show business is a tough field to get into on any level, it is most difficult to obtain executive programming and business positions. She points out that while White women appear to be faring quite well on the creative side, they, too, continue to encounter the "glass ceiling" and few actually "break through." It's much more difficult for minority women to "break through," she says, adding that there are many more Black women in creative positions than business positions. She adds: "As hard as it is for minority women, the establishment still finds us less threatening, and things are even harder for Black men. …

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