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Studios open to diversity

Laura Sturza

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.”