Thirteen years ago, CBS opened its Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase at its Studio City, CA lot. With great expectations, underrepresented actors and writers flocked to the program with its offers of showcasing their talent in front of big industry players such as directors, agents, managers, and casting directors.
As we've been all learning lately, Hollywood is not what it seems.
The program was created to give opportunity to actors and writers whose creativity is often overlooked in a business that is primarily run by white males. The intention was to highlight the careers of people in the LGBTQ community, as well as People of Color, women and people who are marginalized or identify as disabled.
It didn't do any of that. In fact many participants are saying the program made them feel bullied into performing stereotypical racist, sexist and homophobic skits. As if that weren't bad enough recent complaints of sexual harassment have caused director Rick Najera to resign. Najera denies the allegations and issued a press release.
Actor Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari (Silicon Valley, Homeland) had this to say about his experience in the program. (He was cut before the showcase)
“They had very idiosyncratic ideas of what it meant to be gay or black or brown. Maybe if it was 1988 in Cincinnati, that would be what serves the mass culture machine. Or maybe they didn’t get what the purpose of the diversity showcase is. There was an important job description that was left out, and they were like, Yeah, we’ll just fucking rack up some brownie points on racism here by enhancing the racism.”
In a statement to Vulture, CBS said:
"Over the past eight months or so, since the first word of this came to our attention, we believe CBS has taken significant steps to address individual behavior. We have introduced a wide range of cultural sensitivity training for all Showcase leaders, including seminars on micro-aggressions and unconscious bias. Those efforts will continue. We are also excited about the Showcase’s new leadership and committed to building on its outstanding track record of opening doors for its many talented performers in an environment that invites creative risk-taking while respecting race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, ability and sexual orientation.”