Transforming Hollywood 7: Diversifying Entertainment

The past few years have been marked by heated debates around issues of diversity, inclusion and equality — 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.

The response from the entertainment industry has been mixed: on the one hand, overall industry numbers measuring diversity in front of and behind the camera hav remained surprisingly static over time; on the other hand, there have been many high-profile efforts to feature mixed-race and minority-centered casts on American television.

As with 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 can help us to make sense of those changes. Diversifying Entertainment will be a day-long public conversation about diversity, inclusion and entertainment, one which spans developments in television, film, comics, games, and other popular media.

REGISTRATION

8:30 a.m.–9:00 a.m.

WELCOME

9:00 a.m.–9:20 a.m.

ERNEST WILSON, Dean, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism 

DENISE MANN, Head of the Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television 

HENRY JENKINS, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education, University of Southern California

STATE OF THE FIELD

9:35 a.m.–10:05 a.m. 

STACY L. SMITH, Director, Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative, Associate Professor of Communication, University of Southern California

In February 2016, the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg released the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD). The CARD report examined films, television and digital offerings of 10 major media companies from 2014-2015. Looking across gender, race/ethnicity and LGBT status, the study provides a look at what its author, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, calls an "epidemic of invisibility" in media. Dr. Smith will present findings from the CARD report and her most recent studies to give attendees a glimpse of the current state of entertainment media and the progress still needed. 

PANEL 1

WHY DOES INCLUSION MATTER?

10:15 a.m.–11:25 a.m.

Moderator: ROBESON TAJ FRAZIER, Director of the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA); Associate Professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism 

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. 

PANELISTS 

FANSHEN COX DI GIOVANNI 

Head of Equity and Inclusion, Pearl Street Productions 

BERTILA DAMAS 

Actor and National Chair of the Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee, SAG-AFTRA 

MELISSA GOODMAN 

Director of the LGBTQ, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project, ACLU of Southern California 

DANNY WOODBURN 

Actor, Vice Chair SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disability Committee, Member International Council on Disability, Ruderman Family Foundation

PANEL 2 

WHAT ALTERNATIVES DOES SOCIAL MEDIA OFFER?

11:35 a.m.–1:00 p.m. 

Moderator: DENISE MANN, Co-director, Transforming Hollywood; Professor and Head of the Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television 

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 to amass a dedicated following of online users. Fans who become invested in a favorite artist or musician can help spread their messages of change across an exponentially wider circle of social media communities. While guaranteed a paycheck via "work-for-hire" contracts, Hollywood talent lack essential power and agency because they don’t control the copyright for their artistic work. In contrast, actor-creator-entrepreneurs such as Freddie Wong and Issa Rae are running mini-studios of their own making and retaining part or full ownership of their creations; at the same time, they must use a variety of social media tools to keep their voices heard above the din of clickbait and app fatigue. This new breed of online creator also needs powerful advocates: TV showrunners who understand how to navigate the Hollywood system; talent managers who know how to connect creators with alternative voices to their fans; and tech experts who can tweak algorithms so that streaming content aggregators serve artists as well as platform founders. Welcome to the platform economy. 

PANELISTS 

TROY CARTER 

Founder, Atom Factory; Global Head, Creative Services, Spotify 

BAMBI HAGGINS 

Associate Professor, Arizona State University; author Laughing Mad: The Black Comic Persona in Post-Soul America 

PRENTICE PENNY 

Executive Producer/Showrunner, HBO’s Insecure (based on Issa Rae’s web series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl

FREDDIE WONG 

Director, Co-Founder and CEO, RocketJump; online video pioneer and VFX artist 

LUNCH 

1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m. 

Dining options available on campus 

PANEL 3 

HOW DO WE CHANGE THE SCRIPT?

2:00 p.m.–3:50 p.m.

Moderator: HENRY JENKINS, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education, University of Southern California 

Within the entertainment industry, genre conventions help to shape what stories get told and how productions get promoted and marketed. 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. Both realist and fantastical genres offer opportunities for "changing the script" but they also bring historical baggage — old ideas about race, gender, sexuality and disability. The news media like to focus on the white male backlash in fandom but many active fans are embracing these changes and, indeed, modeling through their creative responses what more diverse genre entertainment might look like. Activists are asking critical questions about the ways even more diverse and inclusive productions fall short of our hopes. 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? 

PANELISTS

GRACE L. DILLON 

Professor, Indigenous Nations Studies Program, Portland State University; Editor, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction 

JAVIER GRILLO-MARXUACH 

Writer/Producer, Lost, The Middle Man, The 100, Xena: Warrior Princess 

NAKUL DEV MAHAJAN 

Dancer/Choreographer, So You Think You Can Dance 

DODAI STEWART 

Executive Editor and Director of Culture Coverage, Fusion 

EBONY ELIZABETH THOMAS 

Young Adult Writer; Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania 

PHIL YU Founder/Editor: Angry Asian Man 

 

PANEL 4 

HOW DO WE MOVE FROM STEREOTYPES TO MORE COMPLEX CHARACTERS?

4:05 p.m.–6:20 p.m.

Moderator: MAUREEN RYAN, Chief Television Critic, Variety; Juror, Peabody Awards 

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 particularly significant for underrepresented segments of the population? 

PANELISTS 

EVELYN ALSULTANY 

Associate Professor; Director of Arab and Muslim American Studies Program, University of Michigan; author of Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11 

DESMIN BORGES 

Actor, You’re the Worst 

EFFIE BROWN 

Producer, Dear White People 

KATHY LE BACKES 

Vice President of Research and Development, Wise Entertainment 

MELISSA SILVERSTEIN 

Founder and Publisher, Women and Hollywood 

JEFF YANG 

VP of Cultural Strategy, Sparks & Honey 

SPECIAL GUEST

A CONVERSATION WITH MELISSA ROSENBERG

6:35 p.m.–7:15 p.m. 

MELISSA ROSENBERG, Series Creator/Showrunner, Marvel’s Jessica Jones 

Moderators: HENRY JENKINS, USC and STACY L. SMITH, USC

MELISSA ROSENBERG is one of Hollywood’s most versatile, sought-after storytellers, and one of the most successful female screenwriters of all time. Rosenberg is series creator and showrunner of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter. Since the show’s debut on Netflix in November 2015, Marvel’s Jessica Jones has garnered tremendous response and critical acclaim, including a prestigious Peabody Award, for its genre-bending approach. Additional television credits in Rosenberg’s diverse range include four seasons as both head writer and executive producer of the Showtime original series Dexter, where her work on the show helped earn it a Peabody Award, three Emmy nominations, three Writers Guild of America Award nominations, and two Golden Globe nominations for Best Drama Series. Her additional credits include Ally McBealThe O.C.Party of FiveBoston PublicThe AgencyThe Magnificent Seven and most recently, ABC’s Red Widow, which she created and for which she served as showrunner. Red Widow was produced under her Tall Girls Productions banner. Her film credits include all five screenplays for The Twilight Saga, the vampire romance phenomenon that grossed more than $3 billion worldwide. She also wrote the hit dance film Step Up, which launched a multi-film franchise. In 2011, Rosenberg formed her own company, Tall Girls Productions, which is focused on developing and producing film and TV series with an emphasis on interesting, complex roles for women in front of and behind the camera.

RECEPTION 

7:15 p.m.–8:30 p.m.

Wallis Annenberg Hall

Proudly presented by the Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation