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Panelists Allege 'Jewish Racism in Hollywood'

July 11, 1990|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In comments sure to trigger controversy in the entertainment industry, members of a panel at the NAACP convention in Los Angeles complained Tuesday that the influence of Jewish executives over film and music distribution has held back black entertainers and producers.

But black entertainers who have made it in Hollywood also have not done enough to bring African-Americans into the entertainment industry, some panelists charged.

LeGrand Clegg, chairman of the national Coalition Against Black Exploitation and city attorney of Compton, urged black leaders to "call a summit meeting with the Hollywood Jewish community in the same spirit that Jews have called for summits" on controversial statements of such prominent black figures as South African leader Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Louis Farrakhan.

"If Jewish leaders can complain of black anti-Semitism, our leaders should certainly raise the issue of the century-old problem of Jewish racism in Hollywood," Clegg said.

Marla Gibbs, a producer and star of the NBC sitcom "227" said African-Americans should concentrate on the quality of the product. "Criminal behavior is being imitated by our children because it is being glorified on the screen," she said. It is time blacks admit that "the Jewish system in Hollywood was not set up for us," she said.

Gibbs suggested that black entrepreneurs use other ways of financing their ventures by going to churches and other organizations and work through local NAACP chapters to generate support outside the industry.

The comments came at a panel discussion on "Blacks in the Entertainment Industry" at the national convention of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

In support of his comments, Clegg cited the role of Jews in the movie business documented in Neal Gabler's 1988 book, "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood." The book chronicles the founding of the movie studios early in this century mainly by Jewish immigrants. Today, Jews continue to hold many important positions in the industry, but most of the studios are owned by publicly held corporations.

Leading Jewish and black figures in the entertainment industry were not immediately available to comment on the statements made at the convention.

Actor-producer Jim Brown, who at one time headed Indigo Productions, an independent film company owned by comedian Richard Pryor, said that such stars as Pryor, Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby, should reinvest in the development of young black film makers.

Such stars "control a lot of power. You need to make our stars come to the table and reinvest with you."

"Your brother is excluding you. (If that is so,) is he still black?" Brown said to a round of applause.

Brown charged that black audiences in general are "supporting the very (industry) that excludes you." Hollywood, he told the audience of about 500, has five "isms"--"nepotism, sexism, racism, cronyism and good ol'-boy-ism."

Some members of the panel urged the delegates to keep the pressure on.

"As long as blacks keep buying tickets, the industry should not be let off the hook," said Sandra Evers-Manly, president of the NAACP's Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch and author of a report sharply critical of the entertainment industry for not including blacks in the decision-making process.

Sydney Miller, publisher of the Hollywood-based publication Black Radio Exclusive, urged the audience to "prepare our young to not only dance and sing, but to be able to count the money."

Miller said the disappearance of "mom and pop" record stores and the dominance of major chains has limited the potential for blacks to profit from the black music market. "This was a design by white manufacturers and distributors, favoring the large retailers," he charged, urging blacks to become involved in the distribution side of the business.

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