Science + Technology

UCLA’s School of Law and Chicano Studies Research Center Study Finds Limited Opportunities for Non-White Actors

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A new study by the UCLA School of Law and UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center finds that Latino,black, Asian American and Native American actors have few acting opportunitiesavailable to them. The study's author also challenged the legality of race-specificcasting announcements and suggested thatactors may have legal recourse in federal law that prohibits employmentdiscrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

The findings, which are based on a 2006 survey of castingannouncements, or "breakdowns," from Breakdown Services, a communicationnetwork and casting system, found that 69 percent of the roles were reservedfor white actors and another 8.5 percent were open to white actors as well asnon-white actors. Actors of color were limited to between .5 percent and about8 percent of the roles, depending on their racial background.

The study, authored by Russell Robinson, UCLA actingprofessor of law, found that women also compete for fewer roles. According tothe professor's analysis of major films in 2005, men were almost three times aslikely as women to work in the first-billed lead role. Women made up 44 percentof second-billed roles and 40 percent of third-billed roles, but they wereoutnumbered by men in each category.

"Casting directors take into account race and sex in a waythat would be blatantly illegal in any other industry," Robinson said. "Manyactors accept this as normal, but depending on the facts of the case, lawsuitscan be filed." He said that he believes that in many instances, taking race andsex into account for acting roles violates Title VII of the U.S. Civil RightsAct of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination.

Manycasting breakdowns currently restrict, without any strong narrative justification,the sex and race of the actors who may audition, he said. According toRobinson, casting is a form of free speech that may be protected under the U.S.Constitution's First Amendment, depending on the circumstances. This extends torace- or gender-based casting when these traits are integral to the storyline.But, Robinson said, there are many exceptions that permit the government toregulate certain speech in certain ways.

"I argue that TitleVII's regulation of casting announcements falls into an exception," he said. Headded that he did not believe that complying with Title VII would entailusing quotas but rather the consideration of actors of color and women in manymore roles.

Robinson recommended banning the use of race/sexclassification in casting breakdowns except where casting an actor of aspecific race or sex is truly integral to the narrative. This would requirethat the entertainment industry conduct an annual comprehensive review of theinformation obtained from requests to use race/sex in breakdowns.

Robinson also recommended studying as positive models thediverse casting practices of particular films, television networks and shows,such as the 2004 film "Sideways" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and CBS's "CSI"television series.

Robinson's research is featured in the center's LatinoPolicy & Issues Brief. It is based on a longer article that will publish inJanuary in UC Berkeley's California Law Review.

The entire brief can be found at http://www.chicano.ucla.edu/press/briefs/current.asp.

 

About UCLA

California'slargest university, UCLA enrolls approximately 38,000 students per year andoffers degrees from the UCLA College of Letters and Science and 11 professionalschools in dozens of varied disciplines. UCLA consistently ranks among the topfive universities and colleges nationally in total research-and-developmentspending, receiving more than $820 million a year in competitively awardedfederal and state grants and contracts. For every $1 state taxpayers invest inUCLA, the university generates almost $9 in economic activity, resulting in anannual $6-billion economic impact on the Greater Los Angeles region. Theuniversity's health care network treats 450,000 patients per year. UCLA employsmore than 27,000 faculty and staff, has more than 350,000 living alumni and hasbeen home to five Nobel Prize recipients.

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