HDA Introduces New Concept To Improve Inclusion In Hollywood

The Hollywood Diversity Association launched an inclusion initiative to increase diversity, both in front and behind the camera. The symposium, a groundbreaking and exciting program, was held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City on June 7, 2016. It highlighted an innovative solution to bring about great changes in Hollywood and in American society as a whole.

The Hollywood Diversity Association (HDA) hosted the Hollywood Inclusion Symposium entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” The title of the symposium, a common one in racial conversations and a salute to Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here, urging an inclusive America, was fitting.

The distinguished panel included the following: UCLA scholars, producers, writers, and directors. Panelists at the symposium were Iona Marie Morris, actress with roles in Robotech, Star Trek, Fantastic Four, and others; Dawnn Lewis, known for her role as Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor in NBC sitcom, “A Different World”; Canadian YouTube star and television producer Paul Telner, and documentary maker, Osiris Castaneda.

The overarching theme of the evening was centered around moving beyond the problem, focusing on embracing a comprehensive solution.

The issue, under discussion, was one that originated with #OscarsSoWhite, when Actress Jada Pinkett Smith and director Spike Lee declined to attend The Academy Awards in 2016. The outcry, which arose at the time, brought the phrase, “the elephant in the room,” out into the open. The inclusion crisis in Hollywood and the “good ole boys” mentality of the film and television industry was brought to the light.

Lack of inclusion in the industry can be defined as underrepresentation of meaningful roles for actresses and actors. This list included African Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities, LGBT members, and women.

Panelists discussed their experiences in reference to the inclusion crisis. They made suggestions and recommendations in regards to increasing engagements of diverse talent at all levels of the industry.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Darnell Hunt, one of the country’s leading researchers at UCLA and a voice on race and media. The African American scholar and chair of sociology at UCLA has worked on various projects for over twenty years on the issue of access and diversity in Hollywood.


The Problem: #HollywoodSoWhite

In addition, Dr. Hunt is the director of the Bunche Center at UCLA. He shared his research with the private audience of over 75 industry notables such as Emmy Award Winning directors, MGM and NBC executives, Kelsey Scott (star in movie 12 Years A Slave), Victoria Rowell (former star in Young and The Restless) and many others.  Dr. Hunt and his team have been publishing Hollywood Diversity Reports for the past three years.

He presented a report entitled “Busine$$ As Usual?” at the symposium. This report revealed alarming statistics.

In the industry, there are three white film directors for every black director, and there are three white film leads for every ethnic individual with the role of a lead. Furthermore, minorities are also underrepresented nearly 5:1 among film writers, even though they make up 40 percent of the US population. Minorities are expected to become a majority within a few decades.

In an industry dominated by men, women lose on many counts. Women win half the numbers of lead roles as men. For every 12 male directors, there is just one female director.

This does not mean women or minorities are less talented than white males. It may just mean that they are underappreciated. Dawnn Lewis urged that legends be recognized for the work they have done in the past and are doing now. She said, “There should be no excuse for Hollywood to say that there are no talented black directors, writers or producers.”

Actress Iona Morris, daughter of actor Greg Morris, who starred in “Mission: Impossible” and herself producer and director, spoke of her father’s first-hand experience of Hollywood’s historic resistance to improving diversity. Even after HDA and other similar associations are in place, actors from ethnic minority communities are still facing many of the same issues she saw her father dealing with when she was younger. At the same time, Morris said, “Although we have a long way to go, I can see how things are getting better.”



The Solution:

 In his speech, Dr. Hunt applauded HDA’s efforts and its approach to inclusion, adding that innovations of this nature are needed if we are to address the diversity crisis in Hollywood. HDA’s co-founders, J.R. Pittman and Vanzil Burke, came to the symposium, armed with a concrete strategy to battle this inclusion crisis. The Pittman-Burke Approach to Inclusion and Diversity unveiled how it will aggregate diverse talent, using the HDA Talent App. This app can be used by industry executives as a pipeline to access diverse talent, ranging from actors, writers, producers, and directors. Additionally, this app will also gather other behind-the-camera talent, such as camera operators and sound technicians.

The Hollywood Diversity Association brings together a diverse range of stakeholders, ranging from cinema organizers to directors and talent scouts. Current HDA advisory board members are Keenan Ivory Wayans, Curtis King (of The Black Academy of Arts and Letters), Director Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, Commissioner Mike Davis, as well as Fred Rosser aka WWE Superstar Darren Young. Co-founder James R. Pittman brings his experience at casting reality TV shows on top networks, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX. Burke, an expert at managing celebrities, currently represents these talented stars: Todd Bridges, Victoria Rowell, Michael Colyar, Jackie Christie, and others.

Paul Telner, YouTube star and comedy writer/producer, also has a solution, which is leverage social media. According to Telner, talented diverse actors who are not accepted in the mainstream, due to Hollywood’s elitism, can explore YouTube. They can also explore other social media platforms to gain recognition, large viewership, and popularity.


Diversity Sells

UCLA’s “Busine$$ as Usual?” report has shown that diversity sells. “Diverse audiences are buying tickets”, according to Dr. Hunt. There is big money in diversity for the industry. Comedic legend Luenell says that the pioneering initiatives of HDA makes accessible to industry “bigwigs” a portal to many talented individuals, such as urban writers, directors, actors, dancers, videographers, musicians, vocalists, and cameramen. She said, “No one will be able to say they can’t find us any longer!”

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