When Porter magazine recently assembled a group of high profile TV actresses to discuss representation in Hollywood for its “Women in Television” issue, they likely didn’t expect to become part of the story. But Ellen Pompeo, TV’s highest-paid actress and star of Grey’s Anatomy, turned the tables as she made a larger point about diversity in Hollywood and the role white people play in it.
Pompeo’s comments came during a discussion with actresses Gabrielle Union, Gina Rodriguez, and Emma Roberts that was billed as “The Big Television Debate.” As the women discussed equal pay, navigating Hollywood, and the ways their race and gender influenced their experiences in entertainment, Union and Pompeo began talking about the need for people in charge to actively push to increase racial diversity.
That’s when Pompeo took a look around the room. “This day has been incredible. And there’s a ton of women in the room. But I don’t see enough color. And I didn’t see enough color when I walked in the room today,” she said, referring to the staff filming and assisting with the discussion.
”I think it’s up to all productions to make sure that your crew looks like the world we see,” she added.
This is something that has been repeatedly highlighted, not only by Pompeo, but other high-profile white actresses such as Frances McDormand and Jessica Chastain. And actresses including Union, Viola Davis, and Constance Wu have long criticized industry execs for relying on limited and oftentimes racist depictions of nonwhite women in film, noting that these depictions are prominent because power in Hollywood is concentrated in the hands of a few predominantly white men.
It’s also been explored in academic research. In July, a report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California found that in Hollywood’s top films, there has been virtually no increase in on-screen representation for a number of marginalized groups including people of color, women, LGBTQ actors and actresses, and those with disabilities in the past 10 years, despite some efforts to change the statistics.
“Hollywood has yet to move from talking about inclusion to meaningfully increasing on-screen representation” noted Stacy Smith, a lead author on the report.
While television has been seen as doing better on these issues, studies have found that increased minority representation in speaking roles on television still does not reflect American life. As calls for on-screen representation increase, so have those for representation behind the scenes. These goals include “inclusion riders,” which actors and actresses could use to demand a certain amount of crew diversity on a project before they sign on.
Pompeo explained that addressing these problems falls especially to white people, who make up the overwhelming majority of the highest-paid actors and entertainment executives. “As Caucasian people, it’s our job, it’s our task, it’s our responsibility to speak up in every single room we walk into.”
“It’s our job because we created the problem,” she concluded.