September 19, 1983
Addressing the Congressional Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Washington, D.C.
by Terry Carter, President, META-4 Productions, Inc.

 

Distinguished Members of the SubCommittee:

The recent 20th Anniversary March on Washington provided us all with not only a reminder of how far we have come since those early days of the Civil Rights struggle, but it also gave us a chance for new commitment in the struggle to achieve full inclusion into the American system. There have been, in industry and society, measurable gains, though so much more is yet to be done. As a result of that struggle of the sixties and seventies, Americans of all colors have won the right to eat together, to pray together, to sit together, to live side by side, anywhere in our nation. The right, but not necessarily the opportunity. Black and Brown political gains have been just this side of miraculous, when one considers how minorities were previously systematically shut out of the processes of government decision-making. Today, minority Americans are wielding a share of power and responsibility in many areas of commerce and industry. Except in Hollywood. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, racism is alive and well in Hollywood. With very few exceptions, minority producers and would-be network and studio executives of color are shut out of the system. The vast majority of actors, directors and writers of color seldom work. On the rare occasion when they do, they are usually hired for less money than their White counterparts and the assignments they are given are usually second string. The perspective Hollywood reflects of America and the world is a White perspective. Reality tells us that there are Asian lawyers, Native American engineers, Latino neurosurgeons, and Black astronauts. But Hollywood tells us there are not. Reality tells us that Washington, D.C. is a multi-racial city, but a television show called Capitol shows us a Whites-only perspective of the nation's capitol. Talk about fantasy! Clearly, the television and motion picture industry is out of step with reality.

I believe that there is a solution to this situation, one that is based on accepted precedent, one that can provide new opportunities for creativity as well as for profit, for all concerned. Last month, President Reagan signed an Executive Order designed to increase opportunities for minority entrepreneurs. That Executive Order requires each federal agency to create and implement a minority business enterprise development plan. It was apparently a follow-up to Mr. Reagan's earlier declared objective to assist minority entrepreneurs to help build a strong economic base for the nation. I submit that a similar plan could work wonders within the telecommunications industry. A minority business enterprise development plan for the television and motion picture industry. With the guidance of your committee and a redirected FCC, the industry could be encouraged to set aside a portion of its revenue for reinvestment with minority producers. Please note that I said "reinvestment." I'm not speaking of a handout, but a handshake. Investment holds the potential of profit. This kind of set-aside, having ample precedent in government procurement history, could nourish a generation of entrepreneurs and creative artists who might offer the industry much needed enrichment.

Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, former president of NBC, in an address to the Hollywood Radio and TV Society last Tuesday, called for major innovative changes in network programming or else the networks (I quote), "are going to be in terrible trouble" (end of quote). Well, we would like to provide that innovation. We minority producers, directors and writers, would like to help the networks retain their audiences and resist. the onslaught of new technologies. We offer them the opportunity for an infusion of cultural diversity, new ideas and new product. The inclusion of minority producers, directors and writers could be a major source of the urgently needed innovation of which Mr. Weaver spoke. I believe Mr. Weaver is correct when he warns of "terrible trouble" in store for the networks.

I believe we are moving closer and closer to a consumer rebellion against the put-down and shut-out that Blacks and other minorities are made subject to, by the networks and studios. Many Americans are fed up with what they see as a conspiracy to retain the last major bastion of de facto segregation: prime time television. What if one day all the Black and Brown television viewers in American -- and their White supporters -- were to stop watching TV -- to demonstrate their discontent, their outrage over the way minority people are put down or shut out when it comes to the casting of dramatic roles on American TV? What if millions of minority consumers and White sympathizers were to turn their backs on the television screen for a whole month? What if that action were to mushroom and extend itself to bypassing a select list of advertisers who support network programs? How would it affect the sale of television sets, cars, soap, corn flakes, soft drinks, beer, fast foods? How many millions of dollars would be lost? Is this what it takes to get a measure of justice, fair play?

I know that there is another way. Every sound business reinvests a portion of its earnings to stimulate more business, new products, new markets, with a view toward increased productivity. What I am suggesting is that minority producers who have been heretofore excluded from the mainstream, become the industry's New Products Division, that the industry make a commitment to sit down and negotiate a formula whereby the major producers and networks create a partnership with the community of minority producers for the development of innovative product. This could happen with your help. The industry could be induced to commit contractually a portion of their revenues to finance the development and production of movies and television programs produced by Native American, Asian, Latino, and Black communities, sharing in the promise as well as the profits derived there from. Perhaps significant lasting gains can be made, for all concerned.

We urge you to investigate the possibilities. We don't need another committee report to tell us how bad off we are. Just look at the statistics; ask how many minority producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, musicians, and network and studio executives there are. By now, it should be clear to all of us that the industry will not change on its own. We, therefore, urge you to provide leadership on this issue -- we urge you to help create a constructive dialogue between the industry establishment and the minority communities -- a dialogue of negotiation. We urge you to pursue the enactment of legislation which will guarantee a fair and equitable allocation of programming dollars to minority producers. I submit to you that this is the only way to bring about fair treatment of minorities on the screen and behind the scenes in the telecommunications industry. Thank you.