Meet the creative and business forces — including Kenya Barris, Laverne Cox, Jon M. Chu and Norman Lear — who are shifting the industry's landscape to drive opportunities onscreen and off for fresh talents and leaders: "I want to do things that break what I expect Hollywood to do."
"Every time someone earnestly explains why it is so incredibly deeply difficult for them to find a woman or a man of color to hire,” says Shonda Rhimes, “an angel loses its wings.” In other words, it’s way past time for Hollywood’s offices, sets and writers rooms to represent robust diversity, and THR’s first-ever roster of Agents of Change highlights the key figures working daily to make that happen. They were chosen — after extensive reporting and consultation with stakeholders at every level of entertainment, as well as key members of inclusion-centered industry groups like Time’s Up and ReFrame — for their active leadership and mentorship: These are the producers, execs, creators, stars and advocates making content, making hires and making noise for those still finding their voice. Adds Rhimes, “Good men fix broken things.” So meet the good men (including some straight white dudes), good women and one nonbinary person who are leading the way.
Profiles written by Tara Bitran, Kirsten Chuba, Ashley Cullins, Rebecca Ford, Lesley Goldberg, Mia Galuppo, Natalie Jarvey, Rebecca Keegan, Borys Kit, Michael O’Connell, Alex Ritman, Bryn Elise Sandberg, Tatiana Siegel and Rebecca Sun.
As a Columbia executive in the 1990s, she helped launch the careers of directors like John Singleton, and the indie producer's film and TV projects have always showcased black characters, from 2005's Hustle & Flow (nominated for two Oscars and winner of one) to this year's Alfre Woodard starrer Juanita. She's also fought to give women their shot, including cinematographers Tami Reiker (Beyond the Lights) and Amy Vincent (Hustle & Flow) and editors Cindy Mollo (Juanita) and Terilyn A. Shropshire (Beyond the Lights). For Netflix series Dear White People (based on the 2014 Sundance film she executive produced), she has leaned heavily on female directors, from Nisha Ganatra to Janicza Bravo (both are now feature helmers with hot careers). But the 59-year-old New Orleans native is accustomed to bold ventures, having sold her home to make Hustle & Flow. "That's why my production company's name is Homegrown Films," she says.
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Reporters who investigated rumors [of industry sexual harassment and assault], the #MeToo movement, ReFrame, Time's Up, #A2020, Women in Film."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "Atlanta, Dear White People, Black Panther."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "An exec once told me that Europeans don’t want to see black faces 30 feet high onscreen."
Making the billion-dollar blockbusters Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame in back-to-back years, Marvel has shown that diversity travels. Executive vp production Alonso, 53, sits on the studio's greenlight committee alongside Kevin Feige and Louis D'Esposito and believes that "the world is ready" for a queer superhero. "It's one of the most important things when we can identify ourselves in the cast or the crew of these films," says Alonso, who is gay. "It's part of your identity's journey." But it's also healthy for the bottom line, as the $2.3 billion generated by Panther and Captain attests (with another big sum in the offing from Endgame). "It makes business sense, it makes social sense and for me, makes personal sense," says Alonso. Moore is the production vp who pitched Feige on the idea of introducing Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War and chased Ryan Coogler to helm the character's genre-redefining stand-alone.
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE …
Alonso "The English Patient (love), The Official Story (politics) and [There's] Something About Mary (laughter)."
Moving from ABC to Netflix in 2018, Barris is upping the mentorship opportunities at his Khalabo Ink Society — as well as his creative output. The 44-year-old writer-producer has been ahead of the pack in terms of representation: His comedy Black-ish has been a critical and cultural boon for ABC, while spinoff Grown-ish provided a platform for breakout Yara Shahidi. On the features side, Barris' credits include 2017 hit Girls Trip, which he co-wrote, and producing work on Little. The loose spin on Big opened to a strong $15 million and minted 14-year-old star Marsai Martin as the youngest executive producer ever on a studio feature.
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "When I was an assistant working for a showrunner early in my career, he would read scripts one way when he thought the writer of the script was white. And when he discovered they were black, I would literally hear him read the script in a 'black' vernacular and intonation. He wasn't a racist. He wasn't a bigot. This was just his natural, programmed default. It was so shocking that it prompted me to change my first writing name from Kenya Barris to K. Matthew Barris, which I thought hid my ethnicity."
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Lena Waithe. The level she’s penetrating society is fucking crazy and completely deserved. What is deserved and warranted for someone doesn’t always get to happen, but it did with Lena. And it kept happening. And it wasn’t until I spoke to one of my daughter’s friends that I realized the singularly proprietary and groundbreaking impact that Lena has. Her fearless and raw transparency in letting the world see who she is has given permission for a lot of other queer kids to be seen. It’s often hard for me to give her credit — because every time I see her she gives me shit about how much more successful she is than I am — but there is no denying Lena is a cultural icon and a trailblazer who has made her mark on this place in a way we won’t soon forget."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE ... "Do The Right Thing, Swingers, and All In The Family."
Bartlett isn't on the list because she's the first black board member (as of January) of a major talent agency. It's because she is determined not to be the last. "My job is to help create a pathway that is filled with fewer potholes than I had," she says. Bartlett — who grew up wanting to be a librarian or a football coach — does this by mentoring ICM's junior employees (she threw her support behind an assistant's idea to stage an agencywide luncheon during Black History Month) and "linking arms with my fellow agents and executives who are trying to effect change" in creating a pipeline for underserved groups. As one of ICM's growing corps of black female agents — a group that also includes veterans Andrea Nelson Meigs and Dana Sims — she helped organize the annual Phenomenal Women dinners that gather black female execs from across the industry. "Our jobs are to be beacons," she says.
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Ava DuVernay, who walks it like she talks it. If you look at all the directors on Queen Sugar, they're all women. Her Array campus, which is a budding place of creating art and growing in your artistic expertise, is a really amazing giveback to our artistic community, and the stories that Ava wants to tell are also beautiful and timely, including When They See Us, which will be an incredible piece. The other person is Dr. Stacy Smith, who reminds us that we have these small victories, but the numbers don't lie. Her Annenberg [research on representation in Hollywood] is essential for us to remember that there's still lots of work to do."
With 2018's Love, Simon, Berlanti directed the first teen-targeted, major studio film centering on a gay romance; its success ($66 million worldwide) helped pave the way for other storytellers. "You don't want to be the reason that five other movies don't work," Berlanti, 48, says of the love story about a "white gay kid and a black Jewish gay kid." It's just one example of the prolific (15 shows on the air) creator's dedication to LGBTQ inclusion: He cast trans activist/actress Nicole Maines as TV's first transgender superhero on The CW's Supergirl; showrunners under his employ (such as Riverdale's Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa) also make LGBTQ characters a priority. Berlanti, who mentors up-and-comers like his former assistant (now a director of production at Berlanti Productions), has been recognized by the Trevor Project and GLAAD, among others.
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN … "The majority of rooms I walk into — executive suites or writers rooms or production floors — look and feel like the rest of America."
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "We worked with Ava DuVernay on CBS' The Red Line and she set a whole new standard when she came in and started doing the show. She sets a standard so inherently. I have been really inspired and impressed and ignited by what she's looking for in her creative partners."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "Early on in my career there were gay execs and gay casting people who were the least likely to let me cast an actor they knew was gay in a straight part. These were the individuals who knew how important it would be."
All in the Family. Maude. Sanford & Son. Good Times. The Jeffersons. One Day at a Time — then and now. Lear, 96, was the first, but with collaborators like Calderón Kellett, 44, he knows he won't be the last storyteller to push for inclusion. "I wouldn't know how to live any other way," says Lear, founder of the Imagen Awards and Media Access Awards. "Inclusion was a family in our neighborhood up the street, across the street, down the street." Of all his sitcoms, Lear "can't remember being involved with a show with more positive reaction from the media" than the ODAAT reboot he made with Calderón Kellett (herself an active mentor to writers trying to break into Hollywood). "Being able to tell the story of a Latinx, immigrant family, a real American family, in an honest way heals the kid in me that never got to see that," she notes, adding that the show's writing staff is half Latinx, half LGBTQ and half female. Although Netflix canceled ODAAT after three seasons, Calderón Kellett and Lear remain optimistic as conversations continue that the series will forge on after a deal with CBS All Access fell through (see guest column, page 48). "The fact that we were trending on Twitter, that's all you want. They care. They want more," she says. Or as Lear's favorite saying goes, "To be continued …"
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE ...
Calderón Kellett "Fleabag, Insecure, Master of None would probably be my three, which shows such a gamut of women and people of color at the center of really interesting, funny, holistic storytelling."
Lear "Anything I did. (Laughs.) Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, whatever they're up to embraces what you're asking me about.
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD?
Lear "Matt Stone and Trey Parker [South Park creators] always have a lot on their minds and I don't see their shows as regularly as I would like. Everybody is so busy. But any time I see them, I say, 'Oh, shit, they have a lot going on in their minds.' Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, too."
The tech entrepreneur and former YouTube executive was integral in the May 2018 launch of Gold House, a member-driven collective working to advance the efforts of Asian Americans in entertainment, technology, lifestyle and finance. "Our goal in the long term is to become invisible," says the nonprofit's chairman Chen, 32, who works alongside 22 other volunteers (among them, Joy Luck Club producer Janet Yang and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin) when he isn't busy with his stealth new accelerator. "We want to create a culture where Asians support Asians, period." In addition to hosting regular salons, Gold House's most tangible and visible work has been supporting Asian-led films including Searching and Minding the Gap at the box office by buying out theaters. The so-called #GoldOpen movement, which in February struck a partnership with AMC Theatres, helped Crazy Rich Asians rake in $26.5 million during its three-day North American debut last August.
WORST SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIENCE "Opening Facebook at any time, anywhere and scrolling through circular political debates and faux-modest self-adulation. I’ve responded by deleting Facebook from my phone and never knew there was a love like this before."
Since the duo stepped up as co-heads of Amazon Studios' TV group under Jennifer Salke, they have invested heavily in diverse voices behind the camera, inking deals with such creative forces as Jordan Peele and Michael B. Jordan. Cheng, 48, who also serves as COO for the studio, says the Culver City-based group created a diversity task force around three years ago, designed to make sure that Amazon's staff and its original projects were reflective of the e-commerce giant's base of 100 million-plus Prime members. "We hold ourselves to a very high standard," notes Cheng, who also serves on the board of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment. For Sanders, 49, who joined Amazon in spring 2018 from NBC, it was work he already was committed to, having advocated that his former employer make a financial commitment to supporting diversity in front of and behind the camera. He notes: "In some cases, the network covered the cost of adding new series regulars to shows to make the difference."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD?
Sanders "I've been impressed with how Lena Waithe's company has launched multiple series with dynamic points of view. I'm also really excited that we're working with creators and producers like Michael B. Jordan and Alana Mayo at Outlier Society, Lee Daniels [and producers] Cheo Hodari Coker [Luke Cage] and Heather Rae [Frozen River], who are using their position and influence to amplify diverse voices and new faces.”
"Actual change in this business can take 25 years or two years, depending on the people with the power to make choices," says Chu, 39, who is leveraging the $238.5 million worldwide success of Crazy Rich Asians to accelerate such change. From optioning a Thai cave rescue movie for the sole purpose of making a point ("I wanted to send out a signal that said, 'There are people in Hollywood who have the full support of a studio to protect the perspective of a story and how it's told.' ") to amplifying Latinx narratives with his next project, Warner Bros.' adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, representation has become a driving passion. "The power of people talking to me about their experience of seeing themselves on the big screen has changed my whole perspective," he says. "Now I want to do things that break what I expect Hollywood to do. Unique voices and stories that I have not seen are what drive my artistic side."
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN … "James Bond is Asian."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "From myself. The way I saw leads and casting in my own movies for so long was the way I had seen movies in the past. I felt like movies looked a certain way with certain stars, ... and I was told that as well by studios. It actually hurts my heart to think about it. I didn’t realize I was part of the problem and had the power to change that 'instinct' if I wanted to. And it has made all the difference. Changed my life, actually, in all ways."
In February 2018, there was a story every week — at least — about yet another box office record that had been broken by Coogler's Black Panther. If his freshman effort, Fruitvale Station, established him as a directing talent and Creed proved his ability to handle studio fare, then the $1.3 billion Marvel blockbuster solidified his position as a Hollywood powerhouse. Panther led to Oscar wins for costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler, the first black women to win in their respective categories. While he gears up for the sequel, Coogler, 32, is also throwing his weight behind other projects headed by black creatives, which includes producing both a Space Jam remake, with Random Acts of Flyness creator Terence Nance set to direct (Coogler is co-writing with Searching scribe Sev Ohanian), and Shaka King's Fred Hampton movie Jesus Was My Homeboy.
In her first year as director of programming, Yutani, 49, put her stamp on the 2019 fest's lineup, shining a light on culturally specific filmmakers (in perhaps a first, Warner Bros. showed up at the fest and bought Blinded by the Light, a drama about a Muslim teen in '80s England). Festival director Cooper, 62, helped shape a competition lineup that featured 42 percent female directors, 39 percent people of color and 23 percent who identify as LGBTQIA (a nod to Yutani's "desire to see the world from as many points of view as possible"). But it all starts at the Institute, which Putnam, 53, heads up. The former Miramax executive, who's a leader of gender parity initiative ReFrame, runs labs for emerging directors and writers (Ryan Coogler and Kimberly Peirce are alumni) and partnered with Stacy Smith's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative on studies to uncover why gaps remain in the pipeline.
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE …
Cooper "Films that if I heard the pitch I'd say 'WTF?' but when you see them you are speechless. Days of Heaven, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Roma, to name a few."
Yutani "The Krays, a movie about gangster brothers that's also a layered, sophisticated feminist film; recent American independent films that raise the level of storytelling, like Beach Rats and The Farewell."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD
Cooper "At the beginning of my career, when I put together a program of short films by queer directors and a big executive said it was unfair to the straight white guy who wants to make a movie. Absolutely true story."
Putnam "A pioneering woman who ran programming for an upstart network — with bold choices and great hires — was pushed out, with no credit, just as her years of work paid off and the network became successful."
When Cox first stepped onto Orange Is the New Black in 2013, there were no openly transgender actors with recurring TV roles, so she quickly became a standard bearer for the trans community. Six years later, there are more than a dozen trans actors with recurring roles, and Cox's greatest pride is that "I get to be a black, openly transgender woman and a working actor, that's a big deal." She has used her platform to spearhead projects like doc Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, staffing her sets with as many trans crew members as she can find — and if she can't find a trans person to do a job, Cox, 46, trains one. "We have to not only create opportunities, but do the work to help people be skilled," she says.
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN … "I'm not the only openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy."
As director of Precious and The Butler, and currently co-creator of Fox's Empire and Star, Daniels, 59, has been pushing for gender and racial diversity on his sets since "before it became fashionable," he says. "It's been a part of the fabric of the way that I move from the embryo of my career." His latest overall deal with Fox includes a fund with money carved out to find and promote young, diverse talent outside of the traditional system. The fund also applies to training young people of color in how to be writers and directors and — with a new initiative — how to get into producing. "There are kids of color that need to come up through the ranks so that we can see people of color in production," he says.
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Ava DuVernay has done a good job at being a spokesperson for this inclusion thing."
The Oscar winner and Time's Up activist is an outspoken advocate for pay parity, speaking about her experiences as a woman of color who has repeatedly been paid less than her male and white female counterparts. The 53-year-old actress, who earned acclaim working with black creatives like Steve McQueen, Shonda Rhimes and Denzel Washington, has also committed to fostering the next generation of behind-the-camera talent. Under her and husband Julius Tennon's JuVee banner, which has a first-look deal with Amazon, she's developing features with such directors as Maggie Betts and telling diverse stories like The Woman King, an Africa-set epic about an all-female military unit.
From the stories she chooses to tell — doc 13th and the upcoming Central Park Five limited series When They See Us, both for Netflix — to the films she backs through her ARRAY distribution company, DuVernay, 46, is one of the most influential activist-creators in Hollywood. For four straight seasons, she's hired all female directors to helm her OWN drama series Queen Sugar, and ARRAY, which has acquired and released 22 films (mostly from filmmakers of color), will expand by adding a state-of-the-art theater to its campus in Historic Filipinotown. She's slated to helm her first superhero feature, DC's New Gods, and has set a new romance anthology series, Cherish the Day, at OWN, and somehow found time to team with Dan Lin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to launch the Evolve Entertainment Fund, which aims to create more opportunities in the industry for women, people of color and low-income Angelenos through mentorship and workshops.
BIGGEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Deciding to pick up a camera for the first time at the age of 32."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "I honestly can't pinpoint just one. It all globs together like the big ol' hot mess that it is."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE ... "The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo, La Pointe Courte by Agnès Varda, Sankofa by Haile Gerima."
Ferrera, who has been acting since her teens, has long considered her activism around equal opportunity just as important as her work onscreen. "I found wonderful opportunities to use my platform to tell stories that were incredibly relevant to issues I cared about in the world — and to play characters that I felt were very relevant to creating more representation," says Ferrera, 35, who in 2017 teamed with husband Ryan Piers Williams and Wilmer Valderrama to launch Harness, an organization focused on shifting narratives around social issues. The group has convened TV showrunners with community organizers and leaders to teach them about, per Ferrera, "opportunities that they have ... to tell more authentic stories." The Superstore actress is wielding her influence as a producer for both her own NBC comedy and other shows, like Macro's forthcoming Latinx dramedy Gentefied for Netflix.
When the Plan B trio brought Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave to the Telluride Film Festival in 2013, a young director named Barry Jenkins was the moderator for its first screening, and a creative kinship sparked between the producers and the filmmaker. Three years later, Plan B was back at the festival, this time with Jenkins in the director's chair, for Moonlight. Both movies went on to win the Academy Award for best picture, and their filmmakers are two of the six black directors who have been nominated for the directing Oscar. The production company run by Gardner, 51; Kleiner, 42; and Pitt, 55, has become one of the most reliable launchpads for filmmakers, period, and for filmmakers of color in particular, as it has also backed high-profile projects by Ava DuVernay and Bong Joon-ho. Future projects include The Last Black Man in San Francisco, for A24, Jenkins' series adaptation of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad for Amazon, and the Pitt-starring Ad Astra for Disney/Fox.
With his magnum opus Atlanta, Glover has deftly depicted aspects of both the black experience and that of the young, educated and disillusioned. His FX series — which he created, writes, directs and stars in — is filled almost entirely with nonwhite scribes, and all of the episodes' helmers have either been nonwhite or female. The 35-year-old creator also raised the profiles of three talented black actors — leads Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz, who have each parlayed Atlanta fame into starring roles in high-profile films. Beyond the show, he created a phenomenon with the 2018 release of his "This Is America" music video, which has a whopping 531 million views. His work, which includes recent surprise short film Guava Island with Rihanna, also employs black artists Hollywood has largely abandoned, including Mo'Nique and Katt Williams (who won an Emmy for his Atlanta guest turn).
For more than a decade, Haubegger and Kydd Lee have been at the forefront of efforts to move diverse talent up the ladder not only among CAA's clientele but also within its employee base and throughout the industry. "We're always looking to create new opportunities for people who may not have had the background and exposure to these worlds, and that requires different approaches," says chief innovation officer Kydd Lee. These approaches include inviting high-level executives to monthly off-the-record lunches with assistants of color, cultivating a mentorship curriculum for underrepresented mid-level writers and developing Amplify, an annual business and ideas summit that centers on inclusion and draws top leaders in entertainment, media, tech, sports and politics from inside and outside the agency. "For Michelle and me, there's work and then there's your life's work," says Haubegger, who founded Latina magazine before joining CAA, where she's the head of multicultural business development. "We're in this business because we see the impact that we can make."
BIGGEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN
Haubegger "I wanted to tell our stories, so I started Latina magazine after law school instead of becoming an attorney."
Kydd Lee "At 23 years old, I drove solo from my small village in Maine to Los Angeles in my Volkswagen Jetta — before cellphones."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD
Haubegger "I was asked to get more water for a table at a conference where I was a speaker. I got the water, and then walked up to the dais because I figured nothing I could say would have been more impactful than smiling at them from the stage."
At the SAG Awards in January, Jacobson and Simpson witnessed the casts of two of their projects — Crazy Rich Asians and FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story — pose for a picture with the cast of Black Panther. "I just thought, 'Well, this is the future. This is what Hollywood should look like,' " says Simpson. The Color Force duo, who were behind the first Asian-led contemporary studio movie in 25 years (the record-breaking CRA earned $238.5 million worldwide) and the largest cast of transgender actors ever seen on TV (FX's Pose, now shooting its second season), also mentor aspiring producers through Sundance initiatives. "Where there is underrepresentation there is opportunity," says Jacobson, who is part of the leadership of gender parity initiative ReFrame. "We're aggressively looking for Latinx storytellers. There are so many voices that haven't been heard, so many faces that have not been seen enough."
BEST SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIENCE
Jacobson "Obsessing over all the Crazy Rich Asians Twitter posts."
Simpson "Watching America watch The People v. O.J. Simpson in real time on Twitter. Watching your audience watch your show is addictive — and the purest form of showbiz narcissism."
… AND WORST
Jacobson "Getting misquoted and then bashed by James Woods and his followers after an inclusion panel. Not the nicest bunch of people."
Simpson "I misspoke on a radio interview, using incorrect language about the AIDS crisis. The backlash was intense. I felt it was unfair, but instead of being defensive I tried to fix it by taking responsibility."
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN …
Jacobson "I don’t have to do any more panels about parity and inclusion."
Simpson "I walk into big conference rooms and most people don’t look like me. There are so many rooms full of middle-aged white guys with glasses, untucked shirts and expensive sneakers."
It's not unusual for star athletes to moonlight in entertainment, but James' taste as a film and TV producer billboards his commitment to empowering people of color. After being told by Fox News' Laura Ingraham to "shut up and dribble," the Los Angeles Lakers forward, 34, turned that condescending imperative into the title of his NAACP Image Award-nominated, Jemele Hill-narrated docuseries on athlete activism for Showtime. His and Carter's SpringHill Entertainment next is partnering with Octavia Spencer on a Netflix limited series about pioneering black female entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, and with Ryan Coogler and director Terence Nance on Space Jam 2. "LeBron was born with a passion to uplift others," says Carter, 37. "He's made a lifelong commitment to giving a shot to those who might not get one otherwise. We've channeled his mindset into everything we do, from the stories we tell at SpringHill to our Uninterrupted athlete empowerment brand to the I Promise school in Akron." His companies boast diverse staffs, and his school recently made headlines when its inaugural classes of third and fourth graders, previously some of the area's worst-performing students, posted extraordinary results in district tests.
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD?
Carter "Ryan Coogler is a good example of someone who is changing things by proving someone of color can produce, write, direct and star in pieces of content that can resonate with a global audience and be successful both internationally and in the U.S."
Jenkins' choice of material — everyday people who happen to look like him — may not seem ground-breaking. But in making two films about African American families that have won Oscars (Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk) Jenkins, 39, has raised the profile of actors like Mahershala Ali, Regina King and KiKi Layne and exposed broad contemporary audiences to writers like James Baldwin and Tarell Alvin McCraney. "It was just the material I was attracted to," Jenkins says. "I can't say that I set out with a mission statement." He's continuing his track record of casting new faces on his next project, The Underground Railroad, an Amazon series adapted from Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, with South African actress Thuso Mbedu in the lead role of Cora. "I don't know why, but I keep casting discoveries," Jenkins says. "We are here to share the wealth and expose new people to awesome things."
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN … "When we've run out of firsts. When something happens that revolves around someone that looks like me, someone that looks like Ava [DuVernay], someone that looks like Brie [Larson], someone that looks like Lulu [Wang], and there's nothing special about it, you know?"
Outlier Society's Jordan and his head of production Mayo, a former Paramount exec, are behind the first feature — wrongful conviction drama Just Mercy — made under WarnerMedia's new companywide policy outlining a commitment to diversity and inclusion on all projects. Jordan, 32, and Mayo, 34, worked with the company to craft the initiative, which applies to all film and TV projects moving forward. The Black Panther star also is using his cachet to ensure representation in the next generation, forming a partnership between Outlier Society and the Obama Foundation on a youth fellowship program aimed at helping young men of color break in to entertainment. And Outlier Society has set up a development slate with projects from black creatives, both veterans and newcomers, including Denzel Washington's Journal for Jordan and thriller The Silver Bear from The First Purge director Gerard McMurray.
BIGGEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN
Jordan "Outlier Society felt pretty risky. I started the company three years ago after years of being encouraged to 'be patient.' I was still very much growing in my acting career, and stepping away from purely focusing on that work to try to start a producing career was a real leap of faith."
Mayo "Until a few years ago, I was on a career track as a movie studio executive. I am forever grateful for that experience and the movies I got to be a part of, but after a while, I realized my values were misaligned with the work I was doing. So I quit."
They're shaping the careers of some of Hollywood's top diverse talents (Sun works with Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Donald Glover, John Boyega, Aladdin star Naomi Scott and Crystal Liu who will star in Mulan; Kang-Lowe works with Lena Waithe, Westworld's Lisa Joy and Justin Simien and represents socially relevant projects such as The Night Of, The Good Doctor based on the South Korean series, and the upcoming series Pachinko and film Queen & Slim). But they've also long made conscious efforts to guide junior team members, especially those from underrepresented groups, and helped create and oversee Empower, WME's inclusion program, which includes a mentorship program for assistants. And their reach spans far beyond their agency's walls: Sun, who is a part of the advisory board of Stacy Smith's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, worked with Jordan and WarnerMedia to help the company craft its new inclusion policy, the first of its kind for a studio. And Kang-Lowe not only was a key player working to support the $330 million California tax production credit demanding the addition of diversity provisions, but she also was recently selected by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to form the Entrepreneur in Residence Program, which aims to foster diversity.
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD?
Kang-Lowe "Steve Golin always stood out to me as someone who empowered others. He was a safe haven and emanated kindness and tolerance. He will be dearly missed."
Sun "Charles King — he is a pioneer in the multicultural content space … and my former boss and current mentor, so I'm a bit biased."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE …
Kang-Lowe "Goodfellas, In the Mood for Love, I Love Lucy."
Cutting her teeth in writers rooms led by Greg Berlanti (Eli Stone) and Michelle and Robert King (The Good Wife) after a start in journalism, Kemp was taught early on that she'd be the one calling the shots when time came to staff her own series. Now, the 41-year-old Power showrunner passes that message on to everyone working for her Starz hit — though she's quick to stress that Hollywood is missing something in its discussion of "diversity." "I use the word diverse in the actual sense of the word," says Kemp, who makes sure to populate every room with people of color, LGBTQ+ writers and, yes, even white guys. "All-black or all-brown is not a diverse writers room. A diverse writers room is one with multiple voices with different perspectives. That's what I strive for, because I don't think narrative belongs to any one group."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "I was casting a part that was Dominican, and I picked a Dominican actor. Then I was asked by an executive at the network if I could cast a lighter-skinned Dominican. Think about what the fuck that means. They thought it would confuse viewers, this idea of a dark-skinned person speaking Spanish. I guess that's just regular bias."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, [Apple creative executive] Layne Eskridge and [writer-director] Stella Meghie."
The married couple of nearly 19 years self-funded Macro for its first six months after Charles left WME in 2015 (clients included Tyler Perry and Ryan Coogler) to launch the media startup, which aims to promote diverse voices through film and TV production and venture investing. "I sat in every staff meeting, every packaging conversation and most of the studios, financiers and entities that were producing these stories were not focused on people of color," says CEO Charles, 49. In four years, he has built up a slate of high-profile projects — including films Fences and Sorry to Bother You and upcoming Netflix series Gentefied. Along the way, the 15-person company's events have become must-attends for black Hollywood. "There was an opportunity to bring people together," says Stacey, 46, who officially joined Macro as chief brand officer in 2017. Creating an executive pipeline also is a priority for the company, which has worked with close to 100 interns, many of whom have since found positions at Hollywood agencies and studios. Macro, notes Stacey, "is not just a company mission, but it's our personal mission as well." Still, the parents of two sons try to dial back their business talk after 9 p.m.
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE …
Charles "The Wire, season four."
Stacey "Master of None, the 'Thanksgiving' episode; the 2004 movie Crash."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD?
King "The people at Color of Change, Women in Film, ReFrame, Array, Blackout for Human Rights, The Blackhouse Foundation and Sundance."
Walker King "The teams at Harness, Pillars, Define American and Pop Culture Collaborative are doing such incredible work. While these aren’t traditional content creators, they are frontline soldiers in the fight to ensure that marginalized groups — immigrants, Muslims, people of color — are represented onscreen. I look forward to continuing to work with all of them."
Warners' senior vp, production, has quietly made a name for herself as a mentor to other black and female executives. And multiple assistants promoted from her desk have diversified executive ranks around town (among them, former Disney exec Foster Driver). "Hiring an assistant has had a huge impact because that leads to them hiring their own assistant and making a change," says Kuykendall, who is also part of Who's in the Room, a Time's Up initiative that pairs assistants from underrepresented backgrounds with mentors on the executive or producer level. The key to making an impact, in her eyes, is staying accessible and setting an example. "Sometimes it's connections, sometimes it's being a resource to people who don't traditionally have resources," she says. Kuykendall also champions projects that center on people of color, including recently wrapped legal drama Just Mercy and The Liberators, about an African American U.S. Army unit during World War II.
BIGGEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "There have been moments when I was a baby executive and had no real power and I've had to speak up about something I felt was insensitive. Doing it then, when I wasn't a senior executive, it was hard."
Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter's Oscar podium shout-out to Lee, 62, offered a testament to his mentorship of emerging black talent. The BlacKkKlansman helmer has a long history of nurturing up-and-comers, from Kasi Lemmons (he encouraged the former actress who appeared in his School Daze to take up directing) to Carter (whose very first film job was School Daze) to directing protege Stefon Bristol, whose time-travel feature See You Yesterday will make its world premiere May 3 at the Tribeca Film Festival (Bristol worked as Lee's assistant on BlacKkKlansman). But the tenured NYU film professor, who finally landed a best director nomination this year for BlacKkKlansman and won a screenwriting statue to boot, told THR that he has one mandate when hiring: "Get the best motherfuckers for the job."
Leonard released the first Black List in 2005, but the brand he's built since is more than just the annual survey of top unproduced screenplays. He uses his platform to advocate daily, whether that's through the multiple partnerships he's created to help companies identify writers from underrepresented communities, the panels he sits on or the way he points out blindspots on Twitter. "I have a folder on my laptop of résumés of young people who want jobs in the industry so that when I hear about jobs I can be like, 'Here are five people, so you don't have an excuse to say you couldn't find anybody,' " says Leonard, 40, who was honored by the WGA in February. The Black List's latest expansion includes teaming with Macro to launch an episodic lab that will cater specifically to storytellers of color, and backing its first film, Come As You Are, which stars Gabourey Sidibe.
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle, Hannah Gadsby's Nanette and Lindsay Doran's 'Psychology of Storytelling' talk, as soon as she allows me to record it."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Stacy Smith [of USC Annenberg's Inclusion Initiative]. Never has the evidence of the need to change been more clear, and the data she's generated from the work she's done is the main reason why."
A year ago the It and Lego Movie producer rebranded his Lin Pictures into Rideback and launched Rideback Ranch, a creative campus and production facility that not only produces film and TV but also takes a multi-pronged approach to community service. Setting up shop in L.A.'s Historic Filipinotown, Rideback helped bring the Young Storytellers program to Union Elementary, which has one of the largest immigrant student populations in the country, and has employees volunteer at the Good Shepherd Center. Lin also founded the Rideback TV Incubator, which financially and creatively supports TV drama writers from diverse backgrounds who want to create their own cable or streaming series (THR sister company MRC is a backer), and with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Ava DuVernay launched the Evolve Entertainment Fund for disadvantaged college students who want to work in entertainment. "I've benefited from mentors and people who've helped me and so for the next phase of my career, I wanted to give back," says Lin, 46. "I want my legacy to be the next generation of voices."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Taking the family savings and investing it into Rideback Ranch."
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "My [office] neighbor, Ava DuVernay. She is making great content and supporting diverse voices."
After starring on Desperate Housewives, Longoria, 44, was tired of waiting for opportunities. "As women and people of color, we can't wait for somebody else to do it," she says. For her reimagined ABC adaptation of hit Spanish drama Grand Hotel, producer Longoria cast the majority of the principal roles with people of color, as "you can't have a contemporary series set in Miami and not have Latinos in your story." Longoria, who co-founded Eva's Heroes to provide enrichment programs for young adults with special needs in her hometown of San Antonio, also made a concerted effort to not just hire "another Tom, Dick, or Harry" as her director of photography, but instead corralled females across the board from DP to stunt coordinator to editor. "I think people are on autopilot," she offers, suggesting that new gatekeepers are key. "We need more women and people of color in those decision-making processes because they would lead with the lens in which they lead their lives."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "When I set out to direct. I was an actress, I was young, and when somebody asked me if I wanted to direct something, and I said yes, I thought, 'Why did I say yes? I'm not ready.' A lot of self-doubt goes into change. Change isn't comfortable. Or else it would happen all the time."
"What about a show that has an Asian male lead?" That was Mar's pitch to 20th Century Fox TV president of creative affairs Jonnie Davis for the show that eventually became ABC's Fresh Off the Boat. "I said, 'What if it's a show just about an Asian family — without a white-person way in?' " Mar credits showrunner Nahnatchka Khan for much of the success of FOTB, which recently marked its 100th episode. Mar and longtime collaborator Jake Kasdan make sure that anything they're involved with — like ABC's Speechless, about a family whose eldest child has cerebral palsy — has characters with different and less-seen points of view. "We look for someone trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in and how that's not easy. It's relatable and grounded — and it's something that everybody at some point goes through," he says.
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN … "Richard Weitz quits Instagram."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Staying in it working for free as an intern when my parents told me it was a 'special kind of stupid' to volunteer like that."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE ... "The Big Chill, Comrades: Almost a Love Story, Back to the Future, Stripes, Risky Business (the last three close to perfect movies in my book); Family Ties, every Norman Lear show but specifically Good Times."
After being surrounded by "white, middle-aged guys" during his run on FX's The Shield, Mazzara has been vocal about the need for inclusion in TV. The minute he became a showrunner — on series including The Walking Dead and now on Amazon's The Dark Tower — Mazzara made a point of mentoring underrepresented writers while also having an inclusive room. He serves as a sounding board for writers at all levels of experience and is part of CAA’s showrunner training program; he also teaches a five-week TV Writers Access Project course as well as one on crisis management — both through the WGA, for which he co-chairs (with Shonda Rhimes) the Inclusion and Equity Group. "The thing I find most gratifying is the individual consultation," says Mazzara, who as an ambassador at ReFrame has also helped that organization put together tools for networks and studios to increase gender parity in TV (his four-member Dark Tower writers room has three women). "I haven't created a hit show or one that's gone beyond seven years but this is my career, this is my thing, and I find that really gratifying and rewarding because I do feel I make a difference."
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN … "White men cry at award shows because they grew up not seeing themselves onscreen."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "The Godfather for when the producer finds the horse head in his bed. The scene works even though I am sure you have notes."
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Tery Lopez, WGA director of inclusion and equity. She’s a soldier fighting tirelessly in the trenches."
Miranda, 39, is still surprised by the Hamilton tidal waves. "Ava DuVernay telling me she pitched A Wrinkle in Time as 'I'm doing this Hamilton-style,' which was shorthand for, 'This won't be an all-white cast,' means the world to me," says the Fosse/Verdon executive producer, whose creative philosophy is to write what he sees as missing. Gearing up for a screen adaptation of his first Broadway hit, In the Heights, Miranda recalls how the show arose from knowing "exactly how many roles there were for Latinos in the musical canon and that I wouldn't work unless I wrote." Currently in development on The Kingkiller Chronicle, Sony's Vivo and Disney's The Little Mermaid remake, Miranda is excited by the fantasy genre's lack of boundaries, noting Mermaid will be more diverse than the original animated film. "Why can't our cast be as vibrant as all of the colors you see under the sea? They're fucking mermaids. And mermen!"
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Ava is single-handedly creating a pipeline for women of color directing through Queen Sugar. When we were looking to make a music video for Andra Day's cover of 'Burn' from Hamilton, the music studio sent me a list of directors, the same 12 white guys who direct all the music videos. I called Ava. She sent me a list of eight names of people she knows."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE ... "Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a great example of a show for whom diversity just exists and is a natural byproduct of the situation and the world it lives in. I'm still a little too scared to see Us, but it's a black family and that's just what it is. And everyone should watch Black Panther because it's a master class in filmmaking, full stop, but also the ways in which that entire creative team created a fictional country and told a gripping superhero story that had real-world echoes."
"It's probably one of the things in my career that I'm most proud about," says Murphy of his Half Initiative, which creates opportunities for women and other underrepresented individuals behind the camera. Within a year of its 2016 launch, his shows went from the industry average of 15 percent female directors to 65 percent — a meaningful proportion considering he employs upwards of 75 directors a year on his many series. Murphy, who inked a massive $300 million deal with Netflix in early 2018, has also given an estimated 80 first-time directors who are women or LGBTQ their DGA cards. "The town has always had programs that are about training people but not about implementing the change," says the uber-producer, who regularly showcases LGBTQ talent onscreen, particularly with his FX drama Pose, which he co-created with Steven Canals and Brad Falchuk. "I just believed in it," he says, "and I wasn't going to let anything stop it."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Making Pose, by far. Because for the first time in my career, I went into it and it wasn't a greenlit series. John [Landgraf, FX chairman] said, 'It's difficult subject matter, let's see.' I made the first two episodes on a leap of faith."
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Mark Ruffalo. I love his philanthropy and his awareness-raising. He’s such a great role model because he does it all in such an easy, graceful way, and I think that’s the hardest thing to do when you go out on a limb sometimes."
It was considered a major coup for Netflix when Nagenda, who had been at Disney since 2010, moved to the streaming giant in August. The 44-year-old vp of original film has made inclusion a priority in his projects, including Mulan, Queen of Katwe and A Wrinkle in Time, for which he courted helmer Ava DuVernay. "I tried to bring that lens to all of my projects, including populating stories like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast with as diverse a cast as possible," he says. At Netflix, he's overseeing studio features, including Spike Lee's next project Da 5 Bloods and Gina Prince-Bythewood's comic book adaptation The Old Guard, starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne. Known for mentoring junior execs, Nagenda is also on the steering committee of Time's Up initiative Who's in the Room and on the board of Young Storytellers, which focuses on engaging L.A. youth in storytelling.
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "Network, Do the Right Thing and Raiders of the Lost Ark."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Quitting my finance career to start over as an intern/assistant at Mark Johnson’s production company."
The 41-year-old is the driving force behind the explosion of diverse British talent in Hollywood via his London-based acting school and talent agency, which reps the likes of John Boyega, Letitia Wright, Cynthia Erivo and the first bi-racial Charlie’s Angel in Ella Balinska. Inclusivity has been in the Londoner’s lifeblood since 2003, when he launched the Identity School of Acting — which he describes as “the U.K.’s first-ever black drama school” — a response to the poor number of actors from ethnic backgrounds accepted into mainstream institutions ("Rather than join the chorus of complaints, I decided to do something about it," he says). Two years later, seeing the talent he had trained be mismanaged by "agents who didn’t have a clue when it comes to representing actors of color,” Oguns again took matters into his own hands, launching the Identity Agency Group. The school has since swelled from 10 to a multicultural mix of 900 pupils, and last year opened a branch in L.A., while the IAG is now considered the leading agency in the U.K. when it comes to representing ethnic talent, “whether we’re talking about black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and even Eastern European and Scottish!”
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE ..."City of God, The Handmaid's Tale, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Denis Villeneuve's Enemy."
Packer (with the help of a grapefruit) helped launch comedian Tiffany Haddish to superstardom in 2017's Girls Trip. But Haddish's was far from the first career the prolific producer has boosted. Packer, 45, nabbed Idris Elba right after The Wire for 2005's The Gospel and established a working relationship with Kevin Hart long before he was selling out Madison Square Garden. Under his eponymous production banner, he has ushered African American-fronted mid-budget features like the Think Like a Man series and the Ride Along films, which have earned a respective $173 million and $248 million at the box office. With a first-look deal at Universal, Packer has a deep slate in development and just launched Marsai Martin's Little to a $15.4 million opening weekend.
Beginning his career in sketch comedy, Peele learned how to disarm an audience and hide a big idea inside the Trojan Horse of a joke. It's a device he's deploying at his Monkeypaw Productions, where the big idea is hiring creators and actors from underrepresented groups to make his crowd-pleasing genre movies and TV shows. In addition to the hit horror films he has written and directed himself — Get Out ($255 million worldwide) and Us ($237 million) — the 40-year-old produced Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman for Focus Features, Tracy Morgan's The Last O.G. for TBS and a revival of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone for CBS All Access. On the way are The Hunt, a TV drama about Nazi-hunters in America in the 1970s, for Amazon; Lovecraft Country, an adaptation of a novel that interweaves the horror fiction of H. P. Lovecraft with Jim Crow-era racism, for HBO; and a sequel to the 1992 horror film Candyman for MGM.
Perry, 49, has been a catalyst for change in Hollywood for the better part of 20 years. As a writer, producer, director and actor, his intimidatingly prolific work for film, TV and stage has created rich opportunities for people of color on and off camera. His directorial work alone has grossed more than $1 billion at the global box office, a number that's done a lot to persuade stodgy Hollywood executives that white audiences don't mint every hit. Next up for his massive Atlanta-based operation? A lucrative and characteristically abundant TV slate for Viacom, one that should guarantee an eyeball boost for its troubled cable portfolio.
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Buying a 330-acre Army base and turning it into a studio."
When Rae turned her YouTube series Awkward Black Girl into a prestige HBO comedy, she ushered in opportunity for many black women. Both the Insecure writers room and director's chair have been filled with a bevy of women and people of color. "It's a mandate for us," says Rae, 34, who notes that the effort goes all the way to the PAs, production designers and costumers. "We want to make sure we were doing our part." In fact, this year she had to bring on new writers because so many of the show's former scribes got big opportunities of their own (like Ben Cory Jones, who won his own show Boomerang on BET). Through her deal with HBO, Rae is executive producing Robin Thede's A Black Lady Sketch Show at the network. And through her production company ColorCreative, she also has a multi-picture deal with Columbia Pictures that aims to back projects from emerging, diverse screenwriters. In addition, she's one of the social hubs of the black creative community, and has used her platform to bring attention to police brutality against black Americans, raising $700,000 for Alton Sterling's children after he was fatally shot in 2016.
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Ava DuVernay is just a standard in terms of making sure you really back up what you're saying. She's held so many accountable and led by example."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "Just people thinking that diversity means white women."
Rhimes and longtime producing partner Betsy Beers have seen their roles evolve from, as Rhimes said in 2017, "being two kids in a candy store to being leaders." With a landscape-shifting nine-figure Netflix overall deal, Rhimes bet on herself like never before, taking a greater ownership stake in the programming she creates and produces. It's a welcome payday for the 49-year-old showrunner who — on the strength of hits Grey's Anatomy and Scandal — is largely credited with the way TV now increasingly reflects today's world. Rhimes has always taken a colorblind approach to casting and famously fought to ensure that the Scandal protagonist inspired by Washington, D.C., fixer Judy Smith was also black. Now, Rhimes is a vocal leader within Time's Up and uses her Shondaland lifestyle website and production company to champion the underserved. "I'm a storyteller. That's my core. I enjoy making content, creating characters that accurately portray the world we live in. It's that simple for me," she says. "My goal is to erase the limits Hollywood has historically placed on whose stories are told."
I'LL KNOW HOLLYWOOD HAS TRULY CHANGED WHEN ... "Unicorns and fairies dance down Sunset Boulevard. I'm sorry, I'm not naive enough to think Hollywood will ever truly change. I mean, we are still having this conversation. The best that will happen is that once this town truly figures out that the inclusion of other voices is lucrative, they will start making more inclusive films and shows."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "Every time someone earnestly explains why it is so incredibly deeply difficult for them to find a woman or a man of color to hire, an angel loses its wings. Women are 51 percent of the population. People of color are over 30 percent of the population. How do you go to work in a space full of nothing but white men and comfortably believe you are a good person? Good men fix broken things."
She's "the Khaleesi of the Latinx community," says Rafael Agustin, Rodriguez's creator and co-EP on undocumented family comedy Rafa the Great, which is currently being shopped. Through her banner I Can and I Will Productions, which inked an overall deal with CBS TV Studios, the 34-year-old Jane the Virgin star and EP is taking her father's advice to find the solution instead of complaining about the problem. Her producing projects, Jane spinoff Jane the Novela and Ilana Peña's Diary of a Female President for Disney+, "are both Latinx stories told by incredible Latinx women and have created spaces for us to hire and uplift women in all departments." Voicing Carmen Sandiego and producing a live-action feature for Netflix, Rodriguez commends the streamer for supporting inclusion with I Can's first feature, Someone Great. "As a brown woman who has been excluded," says Rodriguez, "I know not to exclude and will make sure the road is less bumpy for those who'll come after me."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Turned down the first series regular I was offered because it was a role I wasn't comfortable playing. I'm grateful that I did as it opened up space for Jane to appear."
Undoubtedly one of the most influential black women in the industry, the Del Shaw law firm founder doesn't see herself as a mentor. "I kind of hate that term 'mentorship,'" she says. "It says you have to do something special and change the way you do things to bring people within your orbit who might not otherwise be in it." For Shaw, including such people comes naturally. The veteran dealmaker, whose clients include Ava DuVernay, Lupita Nyong'o and John Legend, launched her firm in 1989 and says it was never possible that it would look like those of her peers. "If I was in a place that was homogeneous, I would be uncomfortable," she says. Shaw didn't limit her search to traditional entertainment lawyers. Instead, she found smart, experienced attorneys in other areas of law with potential as talent dealmakers. (Del Shaw partner Gordon Bobb was an M&A lawyer when she recruited him two decades ago.) "People who are part of the establishment don't always see it as their job to be part of the change and require it to come from people like me," says the Time's Up co-founder. "This is not just the fight of people who are traditionally marginalized. And, if we allow it to be, it's never going to change."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "My speech at the 2016 Essence Black Women in Hollywood awards where I said to the assembled group that they were part of the problem because they didn't demand diversity in their representation."
Smith is the go-to academic for this moment, churning out nearly a dozen reports a year that not only describe the state of inclusion but also offer clear remedies. She has partnered with Sundance Institute and Women in Film to examine the pipeline from independent to studio filmmaking and has armed celebrities including Brie Larson and Tessa Thompson with data to compel studios to diversify press access and director ranks. "It's been an inside-outside approach," says Smith, who leads a team of seven full-time researchers and 100 students: "Informing the outside world about this problem so that consumers and audiences can demand more, but also working with insiders to give them the information they need to set target inclusion goals and create a path forward."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "The films I show my class — Searching for Debra Winger and Color Adjustment — reveal the scope and history of some of the systemic issues and exclusionary practices we are working to change."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "The idea that bias is unconscious. In Hollywood, bias is frequently conscious. Framing the problem as 'unconscious' makes it very difficult for people to take personal responsibility and create change."
Soloway, 54, has fought to tell stories of the LGBTQ community onscreen as the creator of groundbreaking Amazon series Transparent, and has been even more involved as an activist behind it. A core member of Time's Up, Soloway — who identifies as nonbinary — is part of the 50/50 by 2020 initiative, which aims to get women into half of Hollywood's power positions by next year. "For me, it's working to build bridges between groups who are other-ized," they say. That means putting a focus on inclusive hiring, with Soloway creating a database of young, diverse writers by emailing all of the female showrunners they know for names. "I collect those and share them," they say. "It's a big job and we have to not only do it, but we have to do it over and over again every day."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Zackary Drucker is doing the day in and day out hard work of making sure that trans people are not only brought into the business but are also safe and healthy in their lives."
The 46-year-old Hidden Figures and The Shape of Water star may be a bona fide A-lister, but she has been outspoken about her personal fight for pay equality — and says having open dialogue is the key. "I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with young women who have an accomplished résumé while their male co-stars do not; yet, he's offered considerably more," says Spencer, who just signed a three-year pod deal with Disney's 20th Century Fox Television for her new production company Orit Entertainment. As an executive producer, Spencer has used her power to bring more women onto set. In her upcoming horror film Ma, 45 percent of department heads were women, and for her Apple series Truth Be Told, she adds, "Our fearless executive producers are diverse and comprised of 70 percent women, so it was organic to hire female department heads and directors."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Mindy Kaling, Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and Tyler Perry are all creating opportunities that I find exciting."
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Moving from Montgomery, Alabama, with $3,000, a few contacts, and a dream in my heart.”
Exploding on the scene in 2017 with a showstopping Emmy speech for her writing work on Master of None, Waithe wasted no time in leveraging her fresh power to embolden others. The 34-year-old multihyphenate now fosters young talent in a boot camp for aspiring writers, producers and actors — the Hillman Grad Network. Accepted applicants get training, mentorship and, in success, placement in writers rooms, assistant positions for the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith and even on agency desks. "You have to learn," says the creator of Showtime's The Chi and BET's upcoming Twenties, emphasizing the importance of workshops for aspiring writers. "You can't just sit around and go to panels."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "Better Things, the first season of The Comeback and an independent film called Just Another Girl on the I.R.T."
As the co-creator of Netflix's Master of None alongside Aziz Ansari, Yang brought into existence the first Asian-led auteur-driven comedy, a genre previously popularized by swaths of white men. The showrunner, whose Maya Rudolph/Fred Armisen series Forever debuted on Amazon in September, has several projects that will brighten the spotlight on people of color, particularly immigrants. Two of his upcoming creations — Apple's Little America and Netflix's Tigertail (his film directorial debut) — will tell such stories. He may not be a household name yet, but Yang, 35, has used every platform he has to explicitly advocate for inclusion, like the time during his 2016 Emmy acceptance speech when he pointed out the lack of Asian American characters onscreen and called on parents to "get your kids cameras instead of violins."
WHO'S REALLY MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HOLLYWOOD? "I want to shout out all of the Asian actors who have been holding it down for decades. Tzi Ma, who's one of the leads in Tigertail, has been acting since the '70s. Can you imagine how unconscionably stereotypical and horrible some of the roles he was auditioning for back then were? I want to thank them for sticking it out and hope that over the next couple of decades we can make up for all of the bullshit they probably had to put up with."
EVERY STUDIO EXEC SHOULD SEE … "Do The Right Thing, Spike Lee; In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai; Persona, Ingmar Bergman."
MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS I'VE EXPERIENCED IN HOLLYWOOD "At one point in a meeting, an executive looked at me and the person I was pitching with — who was not white — and said, 'What is it like when you go into a bar looking like this?' and then moved his hand over his face — to imply a different race, I guess?"
Since launching Significant Productions with Forest Whitaker in 2010, Yang Bongiovi has been crystal clear in her focus: "We want to produce multicultural films and television and normalize people of color onscreen so it doesn't become a niche." She has produced such indie darlings as Dope, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Fruitvale Station and Sorry to Bother You, helping to launch the careers of directors Rick Famuyiwa, Chloé Zhao, Ryan Coogler and Boots Riley. Coming up, Yang Bongiovi, who mentors a female USC student of color every semester, is teaming with Netflix on a live-action film featuring predominantly Asian American kids. Plus, she and Mimi Valdés launched Metta Collective in 2016, which mentors young filmmakers of color through workshops and other events.
BRAVEST CAREER RISK I'VE TAKEN "Rallying the financial support behind Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, and putting my and Forest's reputation on the line to back such a revolutionary filmmaker. It was all or nothing … no middle ground."
WHO'S REALLY DRIVING CHANGE IN HOLLYWOOD? "Barry Jenkins. His beautiful works of art inspire filmmakers and storytellers that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Excellence rises to the top."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.