Unpaid internships limit diversity in the entertainment industry

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Photo Credit: Helen Brown | Daily Texan Staff

If you ask any radio-television-film student what they did over the summer, there’s a good chance they’ll tell you they spent three months working without pay. While it may seem illogical, many of the most prestigious companies in the entertainment industry fail to pay their interns. While this limits opportunities for students coming from less privileged economic backgrounds, it also degrades the industry as a whole and perpetuates the lack of diversity that has haunted Hollywood for decades.

Even as recent blockbusters like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Black Panther” have pushed the industry in the right direction, there is still a long way to go in pursuit of truly equal representation. According to a UCLA report, there is a profound lack of diverse talent behind the camera. Without promoting representation in screenwriting, directing and studio management, how can we expect new stories to be told? 

By neglecting to pay interns, the entertainment industry excludes the very voices they need to meet modern audiences’ demands for diverse content. Since many people cannot afford to work without pay, young filmmakers with less privileged economic backgrounds face a limited number of opportunities. One of the most challenging aspects of achieving success in such a competitive field is getting your foot in the door. For many, this happens through internships. Interns gain invaluable connections and real-world experiences that prepare them for their future careers. 

Despite the fact that the majority of these internships are unpaid, they are typically just as time-consuming and strenuous as any other job. Due to such demanding time constraints, even interns who are willing to work other jobs may find it impossible to make ends meet. Because of this, internship opportunities tend to be limited to those who come from privileged backgrounds. By bringing these people in at the ground level, the industry denies those who cannot work without pay a clear path to leadership positions. This also sustains a cycle of exclusion that has led to Hollywood being too white, male and wealthy to resonate with critical audiences.

“Connections are the most important thing in the film and TV industry, so if you are unable to make those before you actually start your career, this puts you at a huge disadvantage,” said Cayla Tyne, a radio-television-film senior. “The few big companies that do pay are usually in Los Angeles or New York, meaning someone in Austin or Atlanta, or anywhere, that can’t work for that lack of income is going to work much harder than should be necessary, just to get an entry-level position.”

Entertainment companies should eliminate unpaid internships in order to open doors for new, talented voices. In doing so, they will also take a crucial step toward meaningful and lasting representation in film and television.

Waltz is a radio-television-film senior from Dripping Springs.