Jewish leaders Wednesday called for a dialogue between blacks and members of the entertainment industry to respond to charges of Jewish racism raised at a panel discussion at the NAACP convention in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
At a discussion on "Blacks in the Entertainment Industry," some panelists voiced anger at what they said was the influence of Jewish and other white executives over film and music distribution and how that prevents blacks from advancing in the business and improving their media image.
The strongest criticism came from Legrand Clegg, chairman of the national Coalition Against Black Exploitation and the city attorney of Compton, who is not affiliated with the entertainment industry. He said Tuesday that black leaders should raise the "issue of the century-old problem of Jewish racism in Hollywood" in the same way that Jewish leaders complain about anti-Semitic remarks made by black leaders.
Marla Gibbs, another panelist, star and producer of the TV sitcom "227," disputed partially quoted remarks attributed to her in a Times story Wednesday.
Her remarks, in their entirety, concerning how blacks could adopt a positive approach to solving problems they face in the industry, were: "I think we're all talking about film and distribution and marketing based on how the Jewish people and the other people set it up. It was not set up for us. So we have a problem. We have to learn to use what we have."
Gibbs urged black entrepreneurs to use other ways of financing their ventures by going to churches and local NAACP chapters to generate support outside the industry for black projects.
Rabbi Laura Geller, director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the American Jewish Congress, said her group "is deeply troubled by the allegations and apparent perception of Jewish racism in the entertainment industry." She said her organization would like to hold a meeting with Clegg, other blacks and members of the entertainment industry.
"To characterize the entertainment industry as controlled by Jews is an inaccurate and dangerous stereotype," said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Greenebaum called for "open and honest" discussion of the issues. "Attacks of this kind do nothing to solve problems."
Various groups have criticized Hollywood over the years. Women's rights organizations, as well as black, Latino, Asian, Italian and religious groups, have complained about the lack of access to the decision-making structure of entertainment companies and about images presented in films, recordings and television.
What made this round of criticism different, said one studio spokesman who did not wish to be named, was that it focused on Jewish film executives. The film business was founded by Jewish immigrants and many Jews still occupy key executive positions, but entertainment companies today are diversified in ownership and most are publicly held corporations. Attempts to reach other executives for comment were unsuccessful.
Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said Wednesday that the views expressed by panelists "are not necessarily" the views of the national civil rights organization.
The panel remarks followed release of a survey by the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP which reports that blacks have fewer opportunities in Hollywood executive suites than they did 10 years ago.
David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, acknowledged that "perhaps many blacks haven't gone into the entertainment industry." But he called Clegg's remarks "outrageous anti-Semitism and patent nonsense. . . . The Sony Corp., MGM, Universal and all the other studios do not have religious affiliations," Lehrer said. "They choose to produce films because of what they think will sell."