John Ridley Throws Party for Underrepresented Writers

Carol Ciriaco
From left: CAA agent Cameron Mitchell, Packer, Ridley, Will Packer Productions motion pictures head James Lopez

The 'American Crime' showrunner's exclusive industry mixer brought together young scribes with influential figures, including producer Will Packer and Showtime president Gary S. Levine.

More and more diversity-awareness events are populating Hollywood's social calendar, but not all have the credibility of John Ridley's TV industry mixer, which took place last Thursday at Palihouse West Hollywood.

The exclusive gathering, hosted by CAA and Brillstein on behalf of their client Ridley, drew 170 people, twice as many as its inaugural outing a year ago. Most notably, more creatives in leadership positions turned out, including Ride Along and Roots producer Will Packer, Orphan Black co-creator Graeme Manson and Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker.

"Diversity events are often just a bunch of white execs and diverse writers taking advantage of the free food and drinks. This is the first one a fancy person has lent his name to," says Noelle Valdivia, a former Masters of Sex scribe now writing for Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle. "John Ridley's agents and managers are here in expensive suits shaking young writers' hands. It legitimizes an experience that can sometimes feel like a politically correct gesture."

Ridley says he was in these scribes' position 20 years ago, and conceived of the mixer to help them gain access to the kinds of opportunities he had. "Showrunners who have power are meeting these folks and seeing that they have the passion to make things happen," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Maybe not this staffing season or the next development season, but sooner or later, they'll hire someone who doesn't look like them with a story to tell, and it'll grow from there."

In addition to reps from CAA and Brillstein, a number of influential executives from networks, studios and production companies were there, too, including Showtime president of programming Gary S. Levine, Plan B co-president Jeremy Kleiner and Paramount TV head of drama Annette Savitch.

According to UCLA's latest Hollywood Diversity Report, people of color represent 3.3 percent of series creators on broadcast networks, and 7.5 percent on cable. This has led to roughly two-thirds of TV shows employing 10 percent or fewer non-white writers. "Blaming it on the networks — that's crap. It's an outsized circumstance when a showrunner can't get their way [with respect to hiring]," says Ridley, whose American Crime crew, from the writers' room to the postproduction teams, is consciously populated with people of varying backgrounds.

But the 12 Years a Slave Oscar winner (who praised the Academy's recent changes as "absolutely extraordinary") adds that he includes himself in his admonition: "The word 'diversity' reminds me of the 1970s. We want to be reflective of reality, and that includes white guys as well."

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