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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lee Simpson

CHANGE IN SHOWBIZ THINKING TAKES INCREMENTAL STEPS

Variety’s 2022 Changemakers Summit, held virtually on June 14-15, will feature a diverse group of professionals—powerhouses in the entertainment industry and prominent field experts—participating in interviews, panels, and roundtable conversations. These discussions involve topics surrounding four unique communities—the BIPOC, LGBTQ, disability and neurodiverse populations—and shine a spotlight on issues relating to diversity both onscreen and behind the scenes.


Comedy icon Tiffany Haddish, the second African American to win a Grammy for Best Comedy album after Whoopi Goldberg, will be interviewed in a keynote conversation. Other keynote speakers: The Gordita Chronicles executive producers Zoe Saldana and Eva Longoria, as well as Rod Roddenberry, CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment and Founder of the Roddenberry Foundation.


The Reality Checking Industry Diversity Pledges panel will inform about underrepresented talent and DEI pledges. Craig Robinson, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer at NBCUniversal, appears alongside Brenda Victoria Castillo, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Both acknowledge a shift in the right direction, but insist we’ve only begun.


“Progress has been made in Hollywood for onscreen representation, but we also acknowledge further efforts must be made to help achieve equity behind the scenes,” says Castillo. “Latinos make up 20% of the US population and in California we make up 40%. In LA County, we’re 50%, but you don’t see us represented in those C-suit or boardroom positions—the positions that make decisions to greenlight projects.”


“I have worked in entertainment for nearly forty years and on the one hand, I’m pleasantly surprised by how much progress the industry has made on some fronts,” says Robinson. “And I am also surprised at some areas where there is still so much to be done and there has still been so little change. Both of those assessments serve as an inspiration to do more, and to do better.”

The Evolution of Superhero Identity in Modern Society panel will showcase players in the comic book movie arena, including screenwriter David Callaham (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings, Wonder Woman 1984, Mortal Kombat, Spider-Man: Across the Universe) and Batwoman actress Javicia Leslie. Reflecting on the identities of past and modern superhero characters, the dialogue will be an analysis of the evolving change in diversity from generation to generation and its impact on fans.


Two discussions serve exclusively to the neurodiverse communities—the Mental Health in Entertainment Roundtable and The Future of Mental Health in Storytelling. The latter includes MTVE executives Grant Gish (SVP of Adult Animation) and Sitarah Pendelton (SVP of Unscripted Series) with Dr. Stacy Smith, Founder of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.


“In other areas, particularly for people with disabilities or those with mental health conditions shown onscreen, there has been little to no change in representation,” says Dr. Smith. “Until companies enact policies to facilitate equitable hiring practices both onscreen and behind the camera, and which account for not only numerical representation but the types of stories shown, we will not see major change in entertainment. Changes in hiring and crewing up practices have not happened and thus many of the gains are just window dressing.”

Rutherford Falls actress and producer Jana Schmieding will appear on the Breaking Down Stereotypes in Storytelling panel with As We See It actress Sue Ann Pien, while Visionaries in Production—Artisans Making History features Black Lady Sketch Show composer Amanda Jones and House of Gucci stylist Frederic Aspiras. The discussion examines achievements of artisans from historically underrepresented communities.


“Despite what people might perceive to be progress toward diversity in entertainment, the numbers reveal that there are pockets of progress, not wholesale change,” says Dr. Smith. “For example, our work has shown that the gains made by (white) women directors have persisted through 2021, but still do not reflect the many talented and available women who can helm major motion pictures. The numbers are also quite clear, women of color still do not fill directing jobs in substantial numbers. While there may be more racial/ethnic representation onscreen, these gains are not experienced by all groups and may still be highly stereotypical.”


“People of color represent an extremely large percentage of the profits being made throughout Hollywood,” says Castillo. Our communities should really be working together because we can make or break a film. We need to support films that do have Latinos and other people of color in front of the camera and behind the camera. When they don't include us, I think we shouldn't be supporting those films so they can feel it in the pocket.”


As a combined and collective force, this group is banding together to promote equality in an often-favored industry. These voices, which have been calling out for years, are getting louder, but have yet to be heard completely.


-Variety

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