NAACP Hollywood Bureau
Established in 2002, the Bureau is charged with holding the entertainment industry accountable for advancing diversity in front of and behind the lens.
Since 1915, when the NAACP launched a nationwide protest against D. W. Griffith’s brazenly racist film Birth of a Nation, the organization has been vocal in addressing issues of race and representation in entertainment and media. Based on the novel The Clansman, the film glorified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed Blacks as menaces. “The freed man was represented either as an ignorant fool, a vicious rapist, a venal or unscrupulous politician, or a faithful idiot,” civil-rights leader W.E.B. DuBois said of Birth of a Nation.
Many attributed a resurgence of lynchings and deadly race riots to viewings of the film, which, at the behest of the NAACP, led some cities to ban it. And while Birth remains one of the most controversial movies ever made (and other offensive works come and go), the voices of filmmakers from Oscar Micheaux to Spike Lee to Gina Prince-Bythewood to Ava DuVernay and beyond continue to rise above with beautiful and varied depictions of people of color.
Though the digital convergence era now has all kinds of television content available across multiple platforms, its earliest days were, of course, marked by very limited numbers of channels and programs—some of which drew great concern from the NAACP over derogatory characterizations of African Americans.
At its annual convention in July 1951, the NAACP passed a resolution critical of then-new television series Amos ‘N’ Andy and other shows that stressed negative stereotypes. The resolution maintained that such programs “depicted black people in a stereotypical and derogatory manner, and the practice of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, person, or firms sponsoring or promoting this show, or other shows of this type are condemned.”
Issues of minority representation in the film industry continued throughout the civil rights movement with a lack of employment opportunities also being questioned. Despite the monumental events that had taken place in the movements for equal education, voting rights, women’s rights and employment laws, the entertainment industry would remain curiously intransigent in many ways for decades to come.
Launching of the Bureau
When the television networks unveiled their 1999-2000 fall season lineup of 26 new shows with zero actors of color in starring or leading roles—a key moment in Hollywood history dubbed by some in the media as the great “whiteout” of 1999—the NAACP initiated an ongoing campaign not only to address the lack of minority representation on TV, but also the lack of employment opportunities for all people of color behind the scenes.
As a result, in 1999, the networks signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NAACP and its Coalition partners. The purpose of the Coalition is to advance the cause of diversity in the entertainment industry and create milestones by which to measure future progress in Hollywood that is still used today. Additionally, this historic agreement focused on implementing initiatives across all areas of the Network’s operations. Soon after the signing of the MOU, then-President Mfume became convinced it was the right time to create an official NAACP Hollywood entity to better support and pursue a standing Diversity Initiative. Thus, the NAACP Hollywood Bureau was launched.
Established in 2002, the Bureau is charged with holding the entertainment industry accountable for advancing diversity in front of and behind the lens. The office works to expand such opportunities not only for African Americans, but also Asian Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and others.
The Bureau leads the way in the NAACP’s proud tradition of monitoring the media as a form of social advocacy. Aside from managing the NAACP Image Awards, the Bureau consistently meets with movie studios, networks, guilds, labor unions and others in pursuit of more diverse programming and greater employment opportunities for people of color across the entertainment industry.
And while much progress has been made, there is still much to do. NAACP Image Awards recipient Kerry Washington (widely regarded for her roof-raising speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention) communicated this sentiment beautifully as she accepted her President’s Award honor onstage at the 45th award celebration in 2014.
“Just as we must ensure that ‘We, the people’ includes all Americans regardless of race, class, gender and sexual orientation,” Washington shared, “we must also work to ensure that the stories we tell, the movies we make, the television we produce, the theatre we stage, the novels we publish are inclusive in all those same ways.”
Considering the diverse roots of the NAACP’s founders— a group of White, Jewish and African-American men and women who were inspired to action by an editorial covering a 1908 race riot in President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois —it is fitting that the NAACP Image Awards continues its work towards greater inclusion for all members of the creative communities, and better quality news and entertainment programming for the audiences they serve each and every day.