As 2018 draws to a close, Hollywood continues to find itself under the microscope with regard to inclusion and representation in the industry. It appears some positive steps are indeed being taken toward rectifying a historically shameful track record of excluding women and people of color from executive suites and on both sides of the camera.
While film and television leaders still have miles to go before claiming victory, the consensus among dozens of actors, filmmakers, executives, agents and industry observers interviewed by Variety is that lip service has begun to translate into real action. Agencies, guilds and studios are fortifying their efforts to combat the dearth of underrepresented talent on- and off-screen through a variety of programs and data-point tools, while major stars are leveraging their clout to ensure parity on their productions.
Swift moves have also been made to address racially insensitive remarks by high-profile executives, evidenced by the abrupt firings of Paramount Television president Amy Powell and Netflix communications chief Jonathan Friedland, and career repercussions for the likes of Roseanne Barr at ABC and Megyn Kelly at NBC.
In September, WarnerMedia established a companywide diversity protocol, which will include annual reports on its progress. It’s the first time a major Hollywood studio has etched such a policy in stone. “Anytime there’s change in any process — and we’re talking about changing the process of how we staff up on a movie or TV show — there’s a natural uncomfortableness,” says Warner Bros. Entertainment chief executive Kevin Tsujihara. “But I think everyone realizes this change is necessary. And it isn’t a feel-good kind of thing. This is actually good business. The status quo is not an option.”
Michael B. Jordan, the first actor-producer to adopt the inclusion rider, a formal declaration of diverse hiring practices, helped WarnerMedia launch its initiative via his upcoming film “Just Mercy.” Inclusion is second nature to Jordan. Ever since he was a child actor, he expected to collaborate with people from all walks of life. When he learned there was an actual contractual clause that he could enlist at his Outlier Society Prods. shingle, it was a no-brainer.
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Credit for the inclusion rider’s existence is owed to its three authors: Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California; Kalpana Kotagal, a partner at the law firm Cohen Milstein; and Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni, head of strategic outreach at Affleck and Damon’s Pearl Street Films. “I don’t think anything is a hurdle any longer in the inclusion and diversity debate,” Smith says. “People’s hearts and minds were changed a long time ago, but they were lacking action.”
Through her work at USC, Smith has spent more than a decade tracking what she calls an “epidemic of invisibility” in the entertainment industry. Smith stresses that the number of films featuring speaking roles for black or African-American talent, as well as Asian and Latina women, has remained disastrously low for years. But she and her co-authors struggled to get a foothold with their open-source document.
“The response by a lot of people was, ‘This is already happening. We don’t need to codify it,’” DiGiovanni says. “But we kept going back to Stacy’s numbers. There was some disconnect.”
Adds Kotagal: “The template we have worked toward, it’s not rocket science. It’s low-hanging fruit. But here’s the reality of social change: If it were easy, this would have already been done.”
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