Earlier this summer, I posted a hold the date announcement of our upcoming conference, Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment, which will be held at USC on Oct. 21. I am now able to announce many of the event’s participants, though we still have some outstanding invitations we hope to resolve over the next few weeks and with luck, we will have some exciting new speakers to announce as we get closer to the event. As always, the Transforming Hollywood events bring together industry leaders, creative artists, academics, journalists, fans, and activists for important conversations about the futures of entertainment. Our panels are designed to dig deep and bridge divides. We hope you will join us for this year’s event.
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
Ernest Wilson, Dean, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism
Denise Mann, head of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s Producers Program
Henry Jenkins, USC Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Art, and Education
9:20- 9:45 State of the Field Report
Stacy Smith, Director, Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, USC
9:45-11 Panel: Why Does Inclusion Matter?
Moderator: Robeson Taj Frazier, Director of the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA), University of Southern California
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.
Bertila Damas— SAG AFTRA National Chair of the Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee
Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni — Pearl Street Productions
Melissa Goodman – director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California
Danny Woodburn—Actor, Chair of Screen Actors Guild, Performers with Disabilities group
11:10-1 Panel 2 What Alternatives Does Social Media Offer?
Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA
This panel explores social media as a powerful tool for artists, activists, and influencers to express their voices of diversity and dissent outside the Hollywood mainstream. Social influencers are a new breed of online creator whose ability to thrive in the platform economy depends on their facility with social media connectivity as a means to amass a dedicated following of online users. Fans, who become invested in the ideas conveyed by a favorite artist or musician, can help spread these messages of change across an exponentially wider circle of social media communities. However, the life of an online creator or influencer is not for the faint of heart. Hollywood’s writers, directors, and actors are protected by talent guilds and guided through the byzantine Hollywood system by thousands of development and marketing executives, who give dissenting opinions via an endless series of story notes and marketing positioning statements. While guaranteed a paycheck via “work-for-hire” contracts, Hollywood talent lacks essential power and agency because they don’t control the copyright for their artistic work. In contrast, actor-creator-entrepreneurs like Freddie Wong and Issa Rae are running mini-studios of their own making and retaining part or full ownership of their creations. While building their “brand”—themselves—over weeks, months, and even years, they rely on a variety of resources: crowdsourcing, Adsense revenues, merchandising, branded content deals, and cross-promotional guest appearances in order to keep their voices heard above the din of clickbait and app fatigue. Therefore, online creators need powerful advocates—talent managers who know how to use social media to help under-represented artists escape from obscurity to become chart-topping celebrities. They also need tech startup experts capable of shepherding the engineers and coders who tweak streaming content aggregators, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal, so that they serve artists as well as platform founders. Additionally, online artists need powerful insiders— showrunners, producers, and other allies—who understand what it’s like to struggle against the tide of entitlement that prevails in the studio system, and who will help newcomers with alternative voices navigate the gap between the autonomous spaces of the Web and the heavily bureaucratic and hierarchical spaces of mainstream Hollywood.
Troy Carter, Founder/CEO, Atom Factory Music +Smash’d Labs, Global Head/Creator Services, Spotify
Bambi Haggins, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, Arizona State University (author of Laughing Mad: The BlackComic Persona in Post-Soul America)
Prentice Penny, Executive Producer/Showrunner, HBO’s Insecure (based on Issa Rae’s webseries, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl)
Freddie Wong, Founder, Rocket Jump Studios, online video pioneer and VFX artist
2-3:50 Panel 3: How Do We Change the Script?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins, USC
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 but both offer opportunities for “changing the script” but they also bring with them a lot of historical baggage. The news media likes to focus on the white male backlash in fandom against some of the shifts taking place within genre entertainment, but we also know that many active fans are embracing these changes and indeed, modeling through their creative responses what an even more diverse form of genre entertainment might look like. And activists are holding producers feet to the fire, asking critical questions about the ways even more diverse and inclusive productions may fall short of our hopes and expectations. So, how do we change the script? How do we embrace new stories? How do we tell the old stories differently? And what role can the fantastical or speculative genres perform in imagining alternatives to current racial realities?
Grace Dillon — Professor in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program, Portland State University; Editor, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction
Javier Grillo-Marxuach — Writer/Producer, Lost, The Middleman, The 100, Xena: Warrior Princess
Nakul Dev Mahajan — Dancer/Choreographer, So You Think You Can Dance
Dodai Stewart — Director of Culture Coverage for FUSION
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas — Young Adult Writer; Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania
Phil Yu — Blogger, Angry Asian Man
4-6:15 Panel 4 How do We Move from Stereotypes to More Complex Characters?
Moderator: Maureen Ryan, Chief Television Critic, Variety
The challenge of creating more diverse representations often centers on the construction of 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. Where does the responsibility rest for generating compelling characters in contemporary popular entertainment? 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?
Evelyn Alsultany— Associate Professor; Director of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program, University of Michigan; Author of Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11
Effie Brown — producer, Dear White People
Kathy Le Backes — Vice President, Research and Development, Wise Entertainment
Melissa Silverstein–Founder and Publisher, Women and Hollywood
Jeff Yang — Vice President of Cultural Strategy at sparks & honey; Co-editor of Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology
6:30-7:15 Keynote Conversation
Melissa Rosenberg — Series Creator/Showrunner, Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Registration for the event is now open on a first come, first serve basis. For more information, visit our website. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $10 for students, faculty, and staff of academic institutions.