May 7, 1999

New Screen Actors Guild Employment Figures Reveal Decline in Roles for Latinos, African Americans and Native American Indian Performers

Los Angeles — Employment statistics for 1998 released by the Screen Actors Guild showed that the percentage of roles going to African Americans, Latinos and Native American Indians declined from 1997. This is the first time there has been such widespread decline in roles going to minorities since the Guild began tracking employment figures by ethnicity, gender and age in 1992.

The casting data also showed that most groups continue to be underrepresented on television and in film, with the U.S.'s fast-growing Latino population being the most dramatically underrepresented when compared to their proportion of the population.

The findings come as the Screen Actors Guild prepares to host top-ranking entertainment industry leaders, including actors, writers, producers and directors, at a one-day symposium aimed at finding viable solutions to be under-representation of Latinos film, on television and on commercials.

May 5th symposium, entitled "Big Screen, small Screen: Latinos are Watching, Are You Reaching Them?," will kicked off with the release of a first-of-its-kind report prepared by the Tom's Rivera Policy Institute. This report represents the initial phase of a longer SAG-commissioned study that explores the ways in which Latinos engage the entertainment industry, both as audience members and performers.

Screen Actors Guild President Richard Masur said the numbers represent a disturbing trend: "Throughout the 1990s, the American portrayed in films and on television was moving slowly but steadily toward the reality of our American scene. This is the first time the Guild has seen those numbers decline."


The casting data looks at 56,701 roles cast in productions for films and prime times television that are signed to Guild contracts. Of that total, 13,025 roles were cast for films and 43,686 for television. The 1998 totals represent a slight increase over the 55,900 roles cast under Guild contracts in 1997 and is indicative of the slowdown in the growth of film and television production since 1997.

SAG contracts to not cover daytime television, game shows or most non-prime time programming. Moreover, the casting data information does not include employment under SAG contracts that cover animated programs.


SAG casting data, which the Guild's collective bargaining agreement required producers to report, reflects the percentage of SAG jobs going to African Americans, Latino/Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Americans, Native Americans Indians and Caucasians. Of the 56,701 total SAG roles in 1998, a total of 10,933 —or 19%— went to an ethnic minority. It should be noted, however, that the data simply examines the number of roles, not the quality or compensation. Every ethnic minority except Asian/Pacific Americans saw a slight decline in the number of roles they captured, reversing a seven-year trend that saw those groups of performers make slow but steady gains. Over all, African Americans dropped from 14.1% in 1997 of all SAG jobs to 13.4% in 1998. Latinos feel from 4.0% in 1997 to 3.5% in 1998. Native Americans Indians went from 0.4% to 0.2% over the same period. Asian/Pacific Americans saw a slight increase from 1.9% in 1998.

Latinos, who constitute approximately 10.7% of the U.S. population, continue to be the most underrepresented ethnic group on prime time television and in films. Their appearance in films and TV is less than one third of their real proportion of the U.S. population.


Guild President Masur cited a number of programs —in addition to this week's symposium— SAG has undertaken in its effort to address the inequities in casting:

Over the past year, the Guild issued a series of talent directories aimed at promoting performers of color and performers with disabilities. They include separate ethnic directories listing African American performers, Latino/Hispanic performers, Asian Pacific American performers, Native American Indian performers as well as a directory for Performers with Disabilities and Stunt Performers of Color.

Last summer, in an effort to encourage non-traditional casting of Native American Indian performers, the Guild distributed 400 videos to key producers and casting agents exploring the image of the Native American Indian (both accurate and stereotyped) in film and television.

Last month, SAG awarded its American Scene Award to Dick Wolf (Law and Order). The award is given annually to an individual, production or series that reflects on the screen the diversity of the American scene as it exists in real life. Past winners include director John Sayles (Lone Star) and two award-winning television series, Northern Exposure and Star Trek.

"There is clearly room for much improvement in regard to employment for our performers of color, women, seniors and performers with disabilities. These performers are simply not receiving the numbers of roles they can and should be playing to accurately reflect American life," concluded Masur.

Return to Frontpage