Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment
October 21 Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California
Sustaining Sponsor: AJK Foundation
Event Sponsors: Fusion/Univision, George Foster Peabody Foundation, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism
Sustaining Organizers: Denise Mann, UCLA; Henry Jenkins, USC
Event Organizer: Stacy Smith, USC
The past few years in America have been marked by heated debates around issues of diversity (from the politics surrounding racialized police violence to the struggles around immigration reform) which have placed renewed emphasis on who is being represented through popular media and how. Social media — especially the phenomenon of so-called “black twitter” — has created a space where people of color are organizing on-line to advocate for new kinds of new forms of entertainment content which more fully reflects their lived experiences. And new kinds of “social influencers” are emerging online, a group which includes a growing number of people of color amongst the top internet celebrities.
The response from Hollywood has been mixed: on the one hand, overall industry numbers measuring diversity in front and behind the camera has remained surprisingly static over time. Women and people of color remain grossly under-represented. On the other hand, there have been many high-profile efforts to feature mixed-race and minority-centered casts on American television. Scandal’s Kerry Washington was the first black actress to be the lead in a dramatic television series in three decades, and her success has led to other black actresses getting the leads or strongly featured in prime-time serials. We are also seeing minority experiences come to the fore on sitcoms, including Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, Master of None, and Jane the Virgin. We are watching the major Comics Publishers DC and Marvel embrace more female protagonists, including most dramatically, an American Muslim youth of Pakistani descent becoming Ms. Marvel, and since the comics publishers represent a major pipeline into Hollywood production, some of these shifts are being felt in production decisions The debate around diversity in cinema has come to be short-handed by the hashtag, #oscarsowhite, that stands in for the failure of the film industry not only to expand the range of stories told and the people employed, but also the unwillingness to respect and award accomplishments from those who succeed despite the odds. Rightfully, the quality of these new representations are being hotly debated, again taking advantage of the affordances of new media, such as podcasts, blogs and social media.
As with our previous Transforming Hollywood conferences, we want to focus our attention on where change is taking place, bringing together key thinkers from industry, academia, and the public sphere, who have something to say in helping us to make sense of those changes. Diversifying Entertainment will be a day-long public conversation about diversity, inclusion, representation, and entertainment, one which spans developments in television, film, comics, games, and other popular media.
9:20- 9:50 State of the Field Report
9:45-11 Panel Why Does Inclusion Matter?
After hearing about the dismal representation of marginalized groups in entertainment, one question remains: what can be done? As the conversation on diversity and inclusion continues to escalate, several voices stand out from the crowd with solutions, strategies, and attempts to address disparities. This session brings together industry members and experts to discuss four essential topics. First, the panel will address why inclusive entertainment matters. Second, individuals will discuss the underlying causes at the heart of why under or skewed representation persists. Third, the group will overview what efforts are underway in Hollywood to effect change. Fourth, panelists will cover the challenges that remain and the work still needed to increase representation on screen and behind the camera.
11:10-1 Panel 2 What Alternatives Does Social Media Offer?
This panel explores “social influencers”—a new breed of online creator whose web-based productions and facility with social media connectivity has helped them amass a loyal following of fans. The top 1-2% of these creative entrepreneurs, dubbed “millionaire influencers,” are securing huge paydays from advertisers eager to access the hundreds of thousands of fans. Most social influencers seeking fame and big payouts will choose the path of least resistance by endorsing fashion and beauty products or by engaging with popular Hollywood media franchises. Instead, this panel focuses on a small, but passionate group of influencers who have chosen the path of most resistance by promoting diverse, inclusive representations of marginalized cultures using exclusively online transmedia storytelling tactics. By operating largely outside of the Hollywood mainstream, these activist influencers face a unique set of challenges: they must engage in the hard labor of producing weekly webseries while also reformatting this content for a diverse array of digital platforms (YouTube, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram, etc)–often on their own dime. Paradoxically, if they want to scale their media empires in order to spread their message of hope, they must accept brand endorsement deals if they want to continue to engage, enlighten, and educate fans about the unique challenges of being a marginalized culture in today’s increasingly networked society.
2-3:50 Panel 3 How Do We Change the Script?
Within the entertainment industry, genre conventions help to shape what stories get told and how productions get promoted and marketed to particular audiences. As we push for greater inclusion, we need to reconsider the ways that these genres encode old assumptions about race, gender, and sexuality, and the ways these scripts need to be reimagined to reflect more diverse perspectives. Many of today’s creators find themselves pushing against taken-for-granted assumptions and long-standing formulas, and as a consequence, often fall back on old tropes and stereotypes. These particulars look somewhat differently whether we are considering realist or fantastical genres: both offer opportunities for “changing the script” but they also bring with them a lot of historical baggage. So, how do we change the script? How do we embrace new stories? How do we tell the old stories differently?
4-6:15 Panel 4 How do We Move from Stereotypes to More Complex Characters?
It is not enough to put diverse faces in front of the camera: we need to depict those characters with nuance and complexity, in ways that audiences will recognize from their own lives, in ways that inspire their imaginations. What roles do producers, writers, and actors play in defining who these people are, what they desire, how they react, what goals they pursue, and what relationships they form? And how should we respond when bad things happen to good characters, when subsequent production decisions undercut or marginalize characters whose presence is particular significant for under-represented segments of the population?
6:30-7:15 Keynote: TBD
To register to receive more information, go to http://annenberg.usc.edu/events/events/transforming-hollywood-7-diversifying-entertainment