Four months ago a team of PEOPLE correspondents in Los Angeles began interviewing black and white actors, actresses and filmmakers about racism in Hollywood. Our first reporting came from national correspondent Lois Armstrong, who in 21 years with PEOPLE had already interviewed such prominent black stars as LeVar Burton, Billy Dee Williams, Danny Glover and Blair Underwood. Then staff correspondents Karen Brailsford, Betty Cortina, Johnny Dodd, Lynda Wright and Paula Yoo called 130 sources and gathered more than 60 interviews.
Meanwhile, in New York City, reporting was coordinated by two of our newest senior editors: Mari McQueen, who joined PEOPLE from New York Newsday in October; and Howard Karren, who came from Premiere in January. Some of the most challenging sleuth work involved compiling for the first time minority employment figures from Hollywood's notoriously restrictive craft unions. "What surprised me was the extent hard data on minority employment are still not available," says McQueen. "Allegations of discriminatory practices by the entertainment industry are hardly new. It's startling that so little definitive research has been done until now."
Hollywood, of course, is the leading creator and exporter to the world of images of American life. But what is most disturbing is not that an exclusionary industry is portraying America incompletely to the world, it is that the makers of the most vigorous and polished of our popular entertainments are failing to explain American life to Americans themselves. Is there little wonder that, in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson verdict, many whites looked at their black neighbors and colleagues and felt for the first time that they did not know them at all?
Those of us in the print media have an equal responsibility to report accurately on American life and also to reflect it. Twenty-two percent of PEOPLE'S editorial staff of 255 is composed of minorities and 13 percent is African-American, but they represent only 7 percent of our managers. A staff lacking in diversity is at risk of losing vitality and responsiveness to the social mosaic that surrounds it, and stories like this one vividly remind us just how complex that mosaic can be. "We're never profiled unless the issue is race," black filmmaker Reginald Hudlin told correspondent Karen Brailsford. At PEOPLE, we plan to make it our challenge to change that.