Behind The Scenes: The Industry Gatekeepers Who Hold Power To Promote and Perpetuate Racism

Shereen Daniels - April 22, 2023

To manage expectations this isn’t some salacious expose, the who's who in the entertainment world who promotes or perpetuates racism.

It is, however, an illustration of how when you don’t address the dynamics of power in decision-making and representation, we enable gatekeepers, who no matter how well intentioned, will continue to block or greenlight projects according to their view of the world. Or the view that wish to project. All through the seemingly innocuous medium of entertainment.

Control of resources and opportunity

Gatekeeping refers to the process of controlling access to a particular place, resource, or opportunity.

In the context of the entertainment industry, gatekeeping refers to the power that certain individuals or groups have to decide which films, television shows, and other media are produced and distributed.

These gatekeepers can perpetuate racism in a number of ways. For example, they may be more likely to greenlight projects that reinforce harmful stereotypes or that are centered on white, male or female characters. They may also be less likely to invest in projects by Black creators or to hire Black actors and crew members.

The over-representation of white people in powerful influential roles, can also contribute to the perpetuation of racism. If the people making decisions about what gets produced are predominantly white, they may be less likely to understand the experiences and perspectives of Black people, and may be more likely to make decisions that exclude or marginalize Black voices.

The key roles that make racism (im)possible

Some examples of entertainment business gatekeepers include:

Agents: Agents represent actors, writers, directors, and other industry professionals, and they connect their clients with career possibilities.

Managers: Like agents, managers represent and assist the careers of actors, writers, directors, and other industry professionals.

Producers: Producers are responsible for managing the financial and logistical aspects of a film or television show, and they frequently have a great deal of influence on which projects are made.

Development executives: Development executives are responsible for identifying and creating new ideas for motion pictures and television programmes.

Network executives: Network executives are responsible for programming and content at television networks, and they have the authority to select which series will be shown.

Distributors: Distributors are responsible for distributing films and television series to theatres and other venues, and have the authority to choose which products are released and promoted.

Why have we struggled to tackle racism within this industry?

Part of the reason is because people still get very excited about diversifying the faces we see on our screens. They pay little to no attention about the stories that are being told, how much control they are exerting over said stories and whether what gets commissioned is exploitative and perpetuates stereotypes and objectives are overlooked because those stereotypes are financially profitable.

Introducing the concept of emotional cash

Emotional cash is a term I've not heard of before, but my experiences resonate deeply as I reflect on my own journey of trying to get my projects off the group, continually knocking on doors to find them firmly closed, because my focus on Black people and maintaining control over what we are trying to do and how, scares the mainstream.

Funding programs for example that don't centre whiteness, or package it in a way that is appealing to white decision-makers and/or gives over control so they can dedicate the conditions of their involvement, often means your ideas will struggle to get off the ground.

"As Black and Brown people in this country and across the world, we end up spending a lot of emotional cash, trying to explain our worth.

You spend so much energy trying to explain why this is good, why this is important, why this is the thing, we don't always get to making the thing.

And you get home and you're tired because you've had to spend so much time explaining your worth." - Tracee Ellis Ross

Therefore, it so important for us to fund our own ideas, retain ownership and publishing/IP rights to our work and educate/challenge the industry along the way.

Find good people and brands who believe in what we’re trying to do and keep moving forward regardless of the rejections.