“We were just sick of the whitewashing,” says Assembly Member and Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus Chair Rob Bonta, the first Filipino American State Legislator in California history who joined nine other speakers at William Morris Endeavor ‘s Beverly Hills headquarters on Tuesday morning for a press conference touting the new legislation, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on June 27.
Brown signed the State Bill 871 legislation extending California’s film and TV incentives to 2025. The tax credit program will continue to provide a total of $330 million in tax credits per year to eligible productions, with increased diversity efforts but little economic change from the existing scheme, which was set to expire in 2020. The new legislation is the third iteration of the state’s film and TV tax credits and it promotes diversity in the industry, provides more opportunities for underserved communities, and aims to strengthen sexual harassment policies.
Of the diversity in the industry provision, it addresses diversity in above-the-line (actors, writers, directors, producers) jobs by providing for a voluntary survey of employees and the disclosure of programs and initiatives to increase the representations of minorities and women. The API caucus, which at twelve members is the largest it has ever been, stood firm as a voting bloc in demanding the addition of the diversity provisions, which most notably involve requiring applicants to report the diversity of their workforce, including the key above-the-line positions.
The lack of such programs doesn’t immediately disqualify applicants, but as bill co-architect Ian Calderon (D-57th District), an application that doesn’t mention diversity initiatives “doesn’t look very good.”
“By including reporting on diversity above the line, this bill creates accountability,” said Stacy L. Smith, founding director of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in her remarks at the event. “content creators have to tabulate their own scores on inclusion, and creating this awareness opens up a space for people to make intentional choices in who is hired, and it forces filmmakers to recognize when they have not made choices toward inclusion.”
Bonta and his legislative team have taken a big, historical step in their push for diversity, authenticity, and breaking the status quo in Hollywood. “When something has never been done before, there’s no blueprint or model for how to do it and people think if it’s never been done, it’s impossible.”
Inclusion in entertainment has long been a pet cause for the San Francisco legislator, but he can point to an incident in the not-so-distant past as a formative moment — Feb. 28, 2016 — that galvanized his latest efforts. “I was at the hospital, my wife was in labor, and the television was on,” Bonta says. “It was the Oscars, and the host [Chris Rock] brought onto the stage three little Asian kids and proceeded to make fun of them. I was watching this and thinking about the future of my son. Is he going to be the butt of jokes, and what do we have to do to change that?”
“Inspiring and powerful gathering of film industry and leg leaders celebrating API Legislature Caucus’ victory adding diversity and inclusionary elements to California Film Tax Credit both on screen and in other positions like writing, producing and directing!” says Bonta.
In 2012, Robert Bonta was elected as a member in the Legislative Assembly for his district in California. “In the past, many Filipino legislators ran and failed. And for decades there had never been a Filipino state legislator (in a state where Filipinos are the largest subgroup.)”
“This is just the start. We have an on-going intent to promote more diversity and fix whitewashing. Most roles should be available for any ethnicity, but when there is a specific ethnic requirement, those roles should be given to one who fits that ethnic group.” He explained further, “that authentic, nuanced, true, powerful story of Asian Americans can be told only by Asian Americans: By those who have that spiritual and cultural connection.”