Martin Luther King III says cable and America have considerable work to do on diversity, but he sees dramatic changes in 5-7 years, when content will better reflect the diverse population. King will be at the Kaitz Dinner representing AmericanLife TV, which will premiere his Poverty in America documentary in November.
CableWorld: How did you get involved in this year’s Walter Kaitz Dinner?
Martin Luther King III: The idea came from Larry Meli, AmericanLife’s president. Meli and I formed an alliance several months ago, after they had done a special on Darfur. George Clooney and his father [former AmericanLife primetime host] Nick went over to Darfur to do the special. After that, we shared our Poverty in America project with Larry and looked at the idea of doing a documentary. Everything I can do to help promote what this network is doing is very positive, as well as getting our message out that America is not focusing enough on poverty. Also, I’ve known congressman [Kaitz honoree Edolphus] Towns over the years for his work in relationship to diversity and television. He’s embraced diversity in his New York district and has been ahead of the curve for many other communities.
CW: What’s the focus of Poverty in America?
MLK III: It shows America. Many people don’t believe America has a problem with poverty. We know there are at least 36 million people living with poverty, and the real numbers are larger than that. This special will show just how dramatic the problem is and hopefully challenge policymakers to refocus attention on addressing poverty in America.
CW: How does diversity in cable compare with other industries?
MLK III: I’m not an expert, so I can only give a personal opinion. My impression is that diversity has not been achieved in cable, in television overall, or in any industry. There has been some improvement, but we still have a long way to go.
CW: Are there any bright spots in cable?
MLK III: The brightest spot is that the population is changing dramatically. By virtue of the fact that the numbers are going to change, corporations are going to have to change programming to some degree to reflect diversity. We are seeing more diversity in programming already, aimed at women; and there are more women in management. In 5-7 years, we will see some dramatic changes in programming concepts, management, who holds board seats, things across-the-board.
CW: If there’s one diversity initiative you could recommend for cable, what would it be?
MLK III: A three-fold initiative, consisting of diversity, sensitivity and human relations training. It covers everything. You must understand what each ethnic group brings to the table, and understand why it’s important to reach out to particular demographics. It’s not just the cable industry or the television industry that needs this approach. All of America needs this. In fact, it needs to start in nursery school, because if it started at that level, by the time people got into the mainstream as adults, diversity would be a natural thing.
CW: One out of every three people in this country is a person of color. From this point on, will diversity become a major factor in what people watch, or don’t watch?
MLK III: It could. I don’t know. The focus has to be on developing good family programming with diversity. That’s what pushed me to be involved with AmericanLife TV on the Poverty in America special. They focus on positive, family-oriented programming. Our society is yearning for more of that. We’ve gone so far out with all of these reality shows that at some point, the pendulum has to swing back to the family if our society is to remain a civil society. If you focus on family programming, quality programming which encompasses diversity, then you’re doing everything I believe needs to be done.
CW: Poverty in America is not your first cable project, I understand, as you did a series for Wisdom Television several years ago.
MLK III: That’s correct. I did interviews with ordinary people doing extraordinary things, called The Wisdom of Dreams. It was a wonderful experience. What was most important and compelling was to showcase different people doing so many wonderful things around our world.
CW: Will your partnership with AmericanLife TV lead to a deeper relationship connecting your Realizing the Dream initiative with other cable organizations?
MLK III: I hope so, absolutely. Before you can frame a discussion on any subject, you have to be in the game. You have to be at the table. Relationships like these give us the ability to at least engage in constructive dialogue. Our goal is not to be destructive or counterproductive. It’s to be productive over what’s best for everyone.
CW: Do you plan to be at other Diversity Week events?
MLK III: I’ll try to attend at least a few of them.
CW: What are your favorite TV programs and channels?
MLK III: I enjoy The Biography Channel and some of A&E. I don’t have a whole lot of time to watch TV. When I do, it’s usually Biography, A&E and plenty of news programming. Also some sports.