PBS sets diversity requirements for producers, hires SVP of DEI

PBS is introducing several major initiatives intended to improve its commitment to diversity, the broadcaster announced today (Aug. 10). First, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) will award US$5.5 million ...
August 10, 2021

PBS is introducing several major initiatives intended to improve its commitment to diversity, the broadcaster announced today (Aug. 10).

First, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) will award US$5.5 million over three years to Firelight Media, the non-profit filmmaking company founded in 1998 by Stanley Nelson and Marcia Smith, dedicated to non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color.

The grant will support the Firelight Documentary Lab, an 18-month mentoring program that supports filmmakers from a project’s conception through to its completion. The funding will allow Firelight to expand the number of filmmakers in each cohort.

It will also support Groundwork Regional Labs, which works with emerging filmmakers from underrepresented U.S. regions, to serve 40 early career filmmakers in partnership with local PBS stations. The funding will go towards commissioning digital short films from Documentary Lab and Groundwork fellows or alumni, and other Black and Indigenous filmmakers and filmmakers of color (BIPOC) for the PBS system.

Another $5.5 million was awarded in grant aid to PBS Digital Studios from the CPB and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The CPB awarded $3 million to PBS Digital Studios to establish three Regional Digital Centers of Innovation that will partner with up to three PBS member stations located in geographically diverse markets across the U.S.

The hope is this will result in up to 15 new digital series in the next two years. The centers will exclusively focus on elevating diverse content creators in front of and behind the camera, with shows rolling out beginning next spring on YouTube, and in some cases on Facebook, TikTok and IGTV.

The other $2.5 million comes from the U.S. National Science Foundation to support a two-pronged initiative to create STEM-related short-form videos, with follow-up research to be completed to help understand how and why those videos attracted under-represented groups.

This is to respond to PBS research that suggests Black and Hispanic viewers, as well as women overall, are underrepresented in audiences for the pubcaster’s online STEM content.

Finally, PBS is also updating its producing criteria. The new regulations will require producers to create and share Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) plans for all new agreements, series renewals and direct-to-PBS programs. It will also require producers to describe how their project aligns with PBS’s DEI principles. Producers also must now disclose representation data for production team members, including above-the-line talent.

PBS also named Cecilia Loving (pictured) as its new SVP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Loving will develop organizational strategy, provide ongoing advice and counsel, and cultivate future PBS partnerships. She’ll also support PBS stations’ own ongoing DEI efforts.

Loving comes to PBS from the New York City Fire Department, where she served as deputy commissioner, chief diversity and inclusion officer. She also worked as a law enforcement bureau attorney and EEO counselor for NYC’s Commission on Human Rights. She’ll report directly to PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger.

In March of this year, more than 140 prominent documentary filmmakers and decision-makers signed an open letter from Beyond Inclusion — a BIPOC-led collective of non-fiction filmmakers, executives and field builders — to Kerger, requesting data about the broadcaster’s diversity statistics.

In the letter, Beyond Inclusion suggested that, based on available evidence, PBS hadn’t met its diversity mandate. It called for specific data showing that PBS is living up to its mission on diversity, including the number of hours of PBS non-fiction TV directed or produced by BIPOC filmmakers compared to white filmmakers in the last decade; data about production companies that frequently partner with PBS; and the diversity stats within PBS corporate and member station management staff.

At the time, a PBS spokesperson told Realscreen: “For over 50 years, reflecting the full range of the American experience has been central to the mission and work of PBS. As America’s home for documentaries, we use our national platform to amplify a broad array of perspectives shared by diverse storytellers. This year alone, we are airing more than 200 primetime hours of documentaries, and 55% of those hours feature BIPOC talent, are produced by diverse filmmakers or cover topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion. Of the 200 hours, 35% are produced by diverse filmmakers.”

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