CBS and NAACP Partner To Make Television More Inclusive
Updated: Nov 6
By: Camiryn Simpson
The television industry is notorious for its lack of diversity and inclusivity. The majority of films and television shows have a predominantly white cast and the same goes for their production team. For the past several years, awards shows, such as the Oscars, have been boycotted due to their lack of diversity in the actors and films they nominate for awards. Black people and people of color have been fighting for a change in the entertainment industry and are finally getting the change they deserve.
CBS and NAACP launched a partnership called the CBS/NAACP Production Venture, where their goal is to elevate a diverse range of voices and increase the visibility of Black artists. They have recently announced that Sheila Ducksworth will become president of this venture and will start her new position on November 9, 2020.
As President of the CBS/NAACP Production Venture, Ducksworth’s responsibilities will be to supervise the production and development of television content. This includes documentaries, scripted and unscripted shows that will be released on cable and streaming networks. Ducksworth has a strong leadership background in television that has prepared her for this opportunity and she is excited to make an impact in the entertainment industry with this position.
Prior to working with CBS, Ducksworth worked at Will Packer Media as their head of scripted television and production. Some of the projects she produced include the upcoming Wendy Williams Biopic, Night School, and Ambitions. She also has experience running her own production company. Ducksworth’s colleagues at CBS and NAACP are excited to see Ducksworth use those leadership skills in their new venture. “Sheila is an extraordinary creative executive with an incredible eye for great content,” said George Cheeks, president, and CEO of the CBS Entertainment Group.
It is important to make sure that stories about Black people and people of color are produced by people in those communities. Black representation in the media usually pushes negative stereotypes of Black people and adds to the world’s bias against the Black community. Representation is very little, to begin with, and when the roles Black people are given have a negative connotation, this influences white people to still see Black people as inferior or intimidating.
Black characters speaking in broken English, being involved with drugs, acting violent, or engaging in criminal behavior is very common in television. This encourages the stereotype that Black people are dangerous and not as smart as white people. It is also rare to see a show where a Black character is wealthy and successful, especially without the character struggling beforehand. According to the article The Perceived Realism of African American Portrayals on Television by Narissra M. Punyanunt-Carter, “Black images on television may cause viewers to conceive, alter, or even reinforce their beliefs and opinions about Black people” and this has been proven through research.
Punyanunt-Carter continues: “Research findings using college students’ perceptions have consistently shown that negative exposure to African American portrayals in the media significantly influences the evaluations of African Americans in general (researchers include: Ford, 1997; Mastro, & Tropp, 2004; Power, Murphy, & Coover, 1996). Other research has shown that Black depictions on television have an effect on viewers of all ages and of all races (researchers include: Bryant & Zillmann, 1994; Dates, 1980).”
Popular actors such as Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman have spoken out on declining stereotypical roles. Boseman made it a priority in his career to never play roles with harmful or outdated stereotypes. Instead, he was known for his incredible portrayals of powerful Black characters that uplifted the community, such as Black Panther, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown. Once, he was offered a role in a large name movie alongside Tessa Thompson to play a slave and his response was, “I do not want to perpetuate slavery.”
As an actress myself, I really respect this. Viola Davis has publicly expressed regret for playing a housemaid in The Help, saying, “I feel like I betrayed myself and my people.” The marginalization of Black maids and the “white savior” narrative was what caused this regret, but there are such little roles for Black people in general and that is why she initially took it. Davis acknowledged her regret now to show how she thinks Black people in television deserve better. The NBC/NAACP Production Venture will work to make content that speaks accurately to the Black experience.
Another issue in television that the NBC/NAACP Production Venture is working to fix, is colorism, prejudice against individuals with a darker skin tone in the same racial or ethnic group. In television, dark-skinned characters are usually antagonists, while the light-skinned characters are protagonists. This implies that the darker you are, the more negative qualities you have as a person, and having lighter skin or being closer to white skin, means that you are more superior. There are several occasions where dark-skinned actors were replaced with light-skinned actors on television; Aunt Viv in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Claire in My Wife and Kids are a couple of well-known examples.
Colorism is also an issue in romance movies. It is rare to see a Black person as the lead in a coming of age movie or romance, but when they are, light-skinned characters are always portrayed as more attractive. When a Black woman is considered a hot commodity in a movie, she is usually light-skinned and if she is deciding between two people to date, the script usually pushes you to route for the light-skinned character. The script will complement their looks more and portray them as more successful. To change this issue, it is important that more actors and producers speak out on colorism or create programs to change it. Ventures like the one NBC and NAACP are creating will hopefully create change for the way Black people are represented in television and film.
The cause of casting with colorism and stereotypes, aside from blatant racism, is bias. There are two different types of bias - implicit and explicit. Explicit bias refers to the attitudes and beliefs we have about a person or group on a conscious level. Implicit or unconscious bias is when you have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them, without conscious knowledge. Bias overall can impact Black actors and actors of color from getting the lead roles, even if they deserve it. It is also the reason why a lot of roles for racial minorities have these stereotypes.
The scholarly article, Understanding Implicit Bias by the Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity elaborated more on this concept. According to the article: “Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”
The article continued, “The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.”
Understanding Implicit Bias also lists several characteristics of implicit biases to make it easier for people to understand and identify: “Implicit biases are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges. Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs. They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other. The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse. We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup. Implicit biases are malleable. Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.”
Overall, it was inspiring to learn about the CBS/NAACP Production Venture and to read about a Black woman becoming the president in television production, with the goal of making the entertainment industry more diverse. My goal as a public relations major is to work for a company with a mission I’m passionate about, ideally entertainment or social justice. It is exciting to hear about how CBS/NAACP Production Venture combined both of these areas I’m passionate about and created communications jobs. Helping the entertainment industry become more diverse or promoting their work improving inclusivity would be a dream job for me. The world is a melting pot and it’s inexcusable for films to continue to lack inclusivity. I’m excited to see the strides that Ducksworth and the CBS/NAACP Production Venture make for people of color.