BYU students, alumni discuss minorities in film industry

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BYU illustration design graduate Kee Miller works in the film industry. He is currently working on the filming of the Book of Mormon video series and said Native Americans and the art department are designing the whole project. (Kee Miller)

A research study from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism examined the portrayal of four minority groups (gender, race and ethnicity, LGBT, and disability) in the film industry from 2007-2016.

White males make up the majority of the film industry, according to the study. In 2016, speaking roles were 68.6 percent male in comparison to 31.4 percent female.

The percentages of race in the film industry are 70.8 percent White, 13.6 percent Black, 5.7 percent Asian, 3.4 percent Middle Eastern, 3.1 percent Hispanic/Latino, less than 1 percent American Indian/Alaskan Native, less than 1 percent Native Hawaiian, and 2.7 percent mixed race or other.

Taylor Tiave is Polynesian and a student at BYU studying media arts. She said she wants to work in the film industry to help people learn about different cultures and preserve cultures through documentary films. She said her advisors and professors talk about the film industry’s minority group.

“They make sure we are aware of what we are going through and encourage us to break the mold,” Tiave said.

Elias Gold is Navajo and a media arts student. He said he wants to work in the film industry to spread awareness and help those who have less representation or are portrayed poorly in the media.

“In the mainstream film industry, (Native Americans) are a backdrop,” Gold said. “We’re not at the forefront of everything else.”

The researcher of the study proposed solutions to addressing inequality in the film industry. They said it requires overcoming biases and providing an environment of learning to not trigger stereotypes.

Gold said movies like “The Revenant” cast Native American actors to play Native American roles. He said he saw the authenticity of the actors.

“I feel like it’s moving forward slowly, but people are becoming more aware of people actually representing cultures in the film,” Gold said.

Kee Miller, a BYU illustration design graduate, worked in the film industry as a storyboard artist, art director and production designer. He is currently working on the Book of Mormon video series. Miller said Native Americans and the art department are designing the whole project.

“(We) understand the film because we are part of the (Book of Mormon),” Miller said.

April Groth, otherwise known as AJ in the film industry, graduated from the BYU media arts program and is currently working as an executive assistant at Lionsgate. She worked on “La La La Land,” “The Glass Castle” and “Power Rangers.”

The USC research study also examined gender representation in the film industry. There were only five female directors out of 1,438 male directors in 2016, according to the study. Groth said women are starting later than men in the profession, and to become a qualified filmmaker requires time and practice.

April Groth is co-directing a film called I BUILD A WALL with her husband. Groth said she sees the gap between men and women creatives in the film industry is getting smaller. (Morgan Simpson)

“There is an obvious gap between men and women creatives, particularly in the director’s seat, but I see this gap getting smaller and smaller day by day,” Groth said.

Movies are expensive and film studios create movies to see a return on the investment of the production for the movie, according to Groth. She said if the public wants to see more films with minorities and females, then the audience needs to support those types of films.

“Get out of your comfort zone, and seek after films that challenge you, both intellectually and socially by representing a culture or perspective that is not dominant,” Groth said.