5 Women Tackling The Entertainment Industry's Diversity Issues


Exactly two years before Oscar Night 2018, I had begun working as an entertainment industry executive in Hollywood. Being a black woman in entertainment is challenging given that the industry was historically designed solely around the interests of white men. This has led to a white, male, celebrity bubble of protection and avoidance -- and breaking through this bubble requires tenacity, stamina and a courageous commitment to truth-telling.

Fortunately, some white male celebrities are open to hearing this truth, and are committing themselves to making real, positive change. This is, in part, how I ended up two years ago as Head of Strategic Outreach at Pearl Street Films -- whose owners are Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

A regular part of our conversations at Pearl Street over the last two years includes recognizing that intent does not equate to impact. We as a company are now more focused on our impact. One initiative towards this commitment is the Inclusion Rider. The attention given to the Rider after Frances McDormand's Oscar speech was surprising and helpful. Yet, as I gained more attention after Oscar night, I started to observe the disparity in attention and reverence paid to women who have worked towards inclusion in the industry far longer than I. That's why I asked Swaay to help me publish this short list of women who have been integral in the push for inclusion. You may not read about them in the news every day, but they are well known in the industry, have been committed to -- and have made important strides towards -- real change for years. They are role models for tenacity, stamina, and truth-telling. I am fortunate to have met and learned from these women early in my career as an executive. I know they will inspire you in the same way they have inspired me.

Kelly Edwards is the co-founder of Colour Entertainment — a non-profit organization focused on nurturing entertainment industry executives of color from assistants through the C-suite

Kelly Edwards, Head of Talent Development, HBO

Kelly and I met at the launch event for Project Greenlight Digital Studios, created by Adaptive Studios as a positive response to some of the criticism directed towards Project Greenlight. Kelly has been working on building an inclusive pipeline in Hollywood for over 30 years. She is the co-founder of Colour Entertainment -- a non-profit organization focused on nurturing entertainment industry executives of color from assistants through the C-suite. They hold networking events, seminars and offer mentoring. There is no other program that specifically works towards identifying, nurturing and developing future executives that is as consistent and successful as Colour Entertainment.

Kelly has worked at NBC Universal, Fox and helped develop the shows Girlfriends, Martin, Clueless, The Parkers, and Living Single. Currently she's guiding and supporting emerging storytellers in her role as Head of Talent Development for HBO.

Angel's contributions to Project Involve have been integral to its continued success and in nurturing filmmakers with the highest standards. Like the HBOAccess program, participants work in cohorts to write, produce and direct a short film. Angel Williams

In spearheading their HBOAccess program, she guides writers and directors in creating digital pilots to be screened on HBO platforms and at film festivals. Several participants in the HBOAccess program have gone on to write and direct for network and cable TV.

Kelly plans to shoot her directorial debut this summer.

Through Significant Productions, Nina and her partner of Significant Forest Whitaker continue to develop meaningful and marketable content. Nina Yang Bongiovi

Angel Kristi Williams, Independent Filmmaker

By far the most important education I've received around storytelling and independent filmmaking came via Film Independent's Project Involve. When I started at Pearl Street, I wanted to establish an inclusive database of filmmakers to consider for future hiring, so I reached out to Film Independent for recommendations. That's when I met Angel Kristi Williams. She had been a Project Involve Fellow and later went on to run the program alongside Francisco Velasquez (who has led PI since its inception in 1993).

Angel's contributions to Project Involve have been integral to its continued success and in nurturing filmmakers with the highest standards. Like the HBOAccess program, participants work in cohorts to write, produce and direct a short film. Last year one of these final films, Emergency, won a Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Angel grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and got her BA in Visual Art from the University of Maryland and her MFA in Directing at Columbia College Chicago. Her shorts The Christmas Tree and Charlotte have garnered awards and screened at festivals around the world. She is now in pre-production on her first feature.

Nina Yang Bongiovi, Film Producer

I met Nina at the introductory meeting of the Kellogg Foundation's Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation narrative change initiative. This was my first meeting with Hollywood 'heavy hitters,' and I was still trying to figure out just how assertive I could be in my new role. When Nina introduced herself, I immediately felt at home and knew that I could speak my truth.

Nina criticized the industry myth that films starring People of Color would not do well overseas. After studying Entertainment Management at USC, she had spent a number of years forging relationships between the U.S. and Chinese film markets. She had the experience, relationships and knowledge to back up her questioning of this myth. She also had proven development success with films that many said wouldn't 'sell' like Dope and Fruitvale Station. Of course, Fruitvale Station gave us Ryan Coogler - who definitively laid to rest the idea that films starring People of Color have no market overseas.

Through Significant Productions, Nina and her partner of Significant Forest Whitaker continue to develop meaningful and marketable content. They recently produced Netflix's Roxanne Roxanne, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, and the soon-to-be-released Sorry to Bother You directed by Boots Riley. While many are talking about diversity and inclusion, Nina is out there creating and distributing content that reflects the varied and complex experiences of People of Color.

Karen is a role model for working to dismantle inequities in entertainment from within.

Karen Horne

Karen Horne, SVP, Programming Talent Development & Inclusion, NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studios

I'm not sure when Karen Horne sleeps. Her dedication to industry-wide change means she's present and active in all kinds of initiatives beyond her 'day-job' -- which is also focused on creating and maintaining an inclusive pipeline. She's also one of the warmest and most welcoming people I've met in Hollywood. She greets everyone with a smile and makes time for people who are just starting their own journeys in entertainment.

Karen's 'day job' is Senior Vice President, Programming Talent Development & Inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal TV Studios. She is responsible for most of NBC's diverse talent initiatives - including NBC's Female Forward, NBCUNIVERSAL's Short FilmFestival, Writers on the Verge, the Emerging Director Program, and StandUp NBC. Her wide range of experience includes stints at HBO, Nickelodeon Productions, Walt Disney Network TV and the black Filmmaker Foundation. Karen is a role model for working to dismantle inequities in entertainment from within.

Simone Ling dedicates her time to projects that often struggle to get financing because they go beyond essentialist representations of women and other People of Color and LGBTQ communities

Simone Ling, Independent Producer, Story Consultant

Simone and I have been plotting as co-conspirators on changing Hollywood ever since we met early into my role at Pearl Street. We immediately clicked because of our culturally mixed backgrounds (Simone is an Asian/Hapa woman, born and raised in England). She dedicates her time to projects that often struggle to get financing because they go beyond essentialist representations of women and other People of Color and LGBTQ communities.

As an independent producer, Simone's credits include work on Aurora Guerrero's directorial debut Mosquita y Mari, a 2013 Indie Spirit Award nominee, and Anahita Ghazvinizadeh's first feature, They, produced with Zoe Sua Cho, that premiered at last year's Cannes film festival. A story analyst, consultant and mentor for clients as varied as Universal Pictures, the Sundance Film Institute, and AFI, Simone also sits on BAFTA/LA's Scholarship and New Talent Committees.

These brief introductions don't begin to do these women justice. They have all produced more content, have more experience and won more accolades than what's here. They deserve attention, gratitude, access -- and funding -- and I hope sharing a little about them here might be one more step in that direction. Please follow and support their work - we are all better off because of it.

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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.