Shonda Rhimes, an African American writer-producer, is one of the most powerful people in the TV business. Last week, Disney's ABC TV network made history by naming Channing Dungey to head its entertainment division, the first African American to fill that role.
In fact, even as the big screen industry is under fire for a lack of diversity, some of the most celebrated shows on TV showcase diversity, whether it is the African American family of ABC's "black-ish," the multiracial inmates on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" or the transgender dad on Amazon's "Transparent."
By most accounts, the small screen has become a more culturally inclusive place over the last decade, and for several reasons. The TV audience itself is diverse -- one estimate is that black viewers spend 37 percent more time watching TV than other racial groups -- which has forced network executives to find programming that reflects the people watching at home.
The TV industry is also significantly larger than the movie business, meaning more opportunities overall, and lately there has been an explosion of new programming.
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While film studios have been trimming their release slates -- Paramount, for example, released just 16 movies last year, down from 21 in 2012 -- networks are flooding viewers with new TV series. Last year, an all-time high of 409 original series were produced for television (including streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu), according to a study by cable network FX. That number has doubled in the past six years.
"In television, we are fortunate because we get to try a lot of things; we get to take a lot of shots," Dungey said in an interview. "It gives us a great opportunity to tell many different stories from diverse points of view."
To be sure, neither film nor TV can be said to be truly representative of the U.S. population, at least by the metrics used by experts who have dissected the issue. A study released this week by USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism faulted Hollywood for an "epidemic of invisibility" of minorities and added that media content across the board is "largely whitewashed."
Fewer than 17 percent of the lead actors in a survey of 174 Hollywood movies released in 2013 were members of a minority group, according to a 2014 Bunche Center report (an updated report is expected this week). That compared with slightly more than 10 percent in 2011. Both figures lagged far behind the U.S. minority population overall, which the study collectively pegged at more than 37 percent.
Scripted series on cable TV fared somewhat better, with 19.3 percent of lead actors coming from a minority group, including such series as BET's "Real Husbands of Hollywood." Broadcast networks remain a long way from that level, with just 6.5 percent of lead characters played by minorities.
However, many hit reality shows such as "Survivor," "The Voice," "The Amazing Race," "America's Next Top Model" and "Shark Tank" have done a much better job with minority casting than scripted series or films have done.
Filmmakers have undeniably made strides toward diversity too. Last year, many of the most popular feature hits included black actors in top roles, including the Oscar-nominated Hollywood veteran Don Cheadle in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and Chiwetel Ejiofor in "The Martian."
But sometimes moves toward diversity in film find unexpected stumbling blocks. Disney won plaudits for casting a major character, Finn, with black actor John Boyega in its smash "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." But the Chinese posters for the movie shrunk Boyega's face so small that he could barely be seen, reigniting long-held fears in the industry that some foreign markets expect American blockbusters to have white stars.
Cheadle said last week that he was compelled to add a white costar, Ewan McGregor, to "Miles Ahead," his upcoming biopic of jazz great Miles Davis, due to Hollywood's "financial imperatives."