By working as writers and directors more frequently than at any time
in the past, blacks in the entertainment industry are adding their
credits to those already spotlighted during African American History
“There are more African American producers out there, especially
in the television area,” said John Forbes, an independent TV producer
who runs the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center’s First
Weekend Club -- which promotes films featuring or produced by African
While black writers, producers and actors have been much more
visible in the past 20 years, there are still obstacles to
advancement, said Forbes, who has worked on Warner Bros. and ABC
“African American sitcoms have been training grounds for white
writers,” Forbes said. “Then, once they get that training and are
producing their own white shows, very seldom do they call up any of
the black writers.”
Black Entertainment Television, with offices in Burbank,
Washington, D.C. and New York, widens the field for blacks with its
90% African American workforce, BET spokesman Michael Lewellen said.
“BET has been very successful in serving as a launch platform for
African Americans, both in front of and behind the camera,” Lewellen
Minority writing and talent development programs at ABC and NBC
are designed to discover and train talented individuals, officials
said. At the Burbank offices of Turner Television is Walter O’Neal,
executive in charge of finance and a 32-year industry veteran. Race
has not been a factor in his advancement, he said.
“Opportunities are available ... there hasn’t been that much of a
wall -- or I was oblivious to it,” O’Neal said.
Nickelodeon’s diversity initiative goes beyond recruitment to
include staff education and special activities, such as hosting a
performance by Pin Points Theatre that celebrates Black History
Month, human resources director Patrick Bynum said.
While BET has been at the forefront of developing black talent,
the diversity of its audience attracts employees from other ethnic
and racial groups, Lewellen said. Burbank resident Louis Ortiz is
Latino, and is BET’s Burbank information technology director.
“You get African Americans from all over the U.S. [working here],”
Ortiz said. “That has given me a better understanding of the
community, and how they look at other communities ... we may have
certain concepts, they’re not all true.”