Changes to Law could Mean More Jobs for Minorities in Chicago Film Industry

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Discussion around amending an act that would benefit the local Black film industry, as well as create economic development in urban communities, has been happening over the last few weeks.

END Productions, an independently Black-owned production company, has been speaking with members of the Black Chamber of Commerce, activists, local unions, as well as state representatives such as Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago). Delvin Molden, of the production company said they are in the early stages of proposing an amendment to the Illinois Film Tax Credit Application.

“Hollywood, by historical standards, has always been a stereotypical industry,” he said. “What we want to do is get these young men and women jobs in the industry [and] the first step is getting into the business, educating people, and taking our own steps of getting our images out there.”

On July 2, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new law that would help the Illinois African American Family Commission do more in its efforts in assisting Black people. The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago). The bill would increase the commission’s role to now include monitoring legislation and creating programs that will address the needs of Blacks in the state. The new law will also ensure that official statistics around education, employment, income and health are continually updated. It goes into effect Jan. 1 of 2015.

“Including African-Americans in the development and planning process of policies and programs will guarantee Illinois is better serving the needs of minorities,” Hunter said in a news release.

Molden said he would like to see more incentives offered to production companies that want to film in Illinois. He also said more diversity in the industry is necessary.

The Film Production Services Tax Credit Act of 2008 has a diversity section, he said, that vaguely addresses the “good faith effort” approach –“what a reasonable person would determine is a diligent and honest effort under the same set of facts or circumstances.” This approach is supposed to be used when hiring people of diverse backgrounds.

Even though the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Diversity Plan already works on ensuring that everyone experiences a fair hiring process, Molden said more needs to be done. He wants “The Good Faith Effort” to look at the hiring process from a production standpoint. This will make sure minorities are getting jobs in Illinois, he said.

“The film industry has no concrete numbers,” Molden said. He explains that the Illinois Film Office includes in its diversity report, any prospective job candidate who doesn’t answer the phone, a “good faith effort.” Molden called their data “skewed.”

One suggested regulation will affect productions that receive Illinois tax credits–a sum is deducted from the total amount owed to the state. Production companies will have to document its efforts to hire minorities and share them with the Illinois Department of Labor.

Another recommended change would consist of having a representative from the Illinois Department of Labor conduct production site visits. The visit would be to ensure that the production company is following the diversity goals in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Diversity Plan.

If the company has done what’s expected, then the project will be awarded a tax credit, but if they failed to ensure diversity, they will be denied the tax credit.

Molden has already found allies in his push to increase jobs for African Americans. A local union, who represents technical workers, shared its support in a letter. President Bradley Matthys said that I.A.T.S.E. 476 is willing to help.

“The Local will support END Production’s efforts by providing professional assistance, help
structure classroom curriculums, assist in participants advance training in classrooms
located at various facilities, qualifying participants getting into the Local union and jobs,” Matthys said in a letter. “We all agree that the number of minorities working in the film industry in Chicago needs to be addressed.”

The Chicago film industry will always need people to fill technical positions such as gaffers, key grips, carpenters and painters, Matthys said. These roles require specialized training, he said.

Cinespace Chicago Film Studios also wants to help. The company’s president, Alex Pissios, said in a letter that he will donate space and $2.5 million worth of equipment to help with the minority film training.

In the NAACP’s 2013 Resolution, the film industry’s impact on communities is noted.

“The NAACP recognizes that film, television and digital media production activity
sparks industry-related infrastructure development that serves to revitalize communities and
sustains and helps grow thousands of small businesses that support the industry’s varied
production needs, as well as attracts millions of tourism dollars from audiences around the
world drawn to urban and rural production locations,” the resolution said.

The organization wants African Americans to educate themselves on the importance of policies and programs that will attract and keep film, television and digital media production as a source of job opportunities in Black communities.

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