Three years after civil rights groups threatened to boycott network TV over the lack of prominent roles for minority performers, little has improved. So says a new UCLA study, ”Prime-Time in Black and White,” which notes that there are more African-Americans on TV, but they tend to be shunted aside in supporting roles in sitcoms or in shows airing on Saturday, TV’s least-watched night. ”Despite the large number of African Americans on television, they continue to be ‘ghettoized,”’ the study says.
The study, which looked at 225 episodes of 85 series that aired last fall on the six broadcast networks, found that the channel with the most black performers was the low-rated UPN, whose casts were 28 percent African-American, more than twice the average on other networks. Many of the largely black shows were UPN’s slate of broad Monday comedies. On the networks overall, 39 percent of all black characters appeared in situation comedies, compared to 31 percent for whites, 23 percent for Latinos and 21 percent for Asians. Still, blacks were better represented on TV than other minorities. Latinos, who make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, made up about 2 percent of the TV population. Asian-Americans made up 3 percent of TV characters, while Native Americans were ”invisible.”
What changes have occurred have been ”lip service,” writes study author Darnell Hunt. ”Most of the networks have thrown out a few symbolic gestures and left most of the programming practices intact.” He concludes that the faces in front of the camera won’t become a more accurate reflection of the American complexion until those behind the camera do as well. Noting that TV’s decision-makers remain largely white, he writes, ”The underlying fact is that white control of prime-time continues to make it difficult to diversify it.”