Black Gay Brunch, Muslim Women in Film & TV and Hollywood’s New Push for Inclusive Networking

6:45 AM 5/1/2019

by Nisha Gopalan

Disabled, Native American, Latinx and/or LGBTQIA and looking for a job? Check out the 14 diverse groups that have studios and agencies calling for hires: "Showrunners have reached out asking to see our lists."

Pretend Diversity Illo - THR - H 2019
Illustration by: Daniel Savage

Five months ago, THR ran a story about Black Women Who Brunch (BWB), a group created by writer-producers Lena Waithe (The Chi), Erika L. Johnson (Queen Sugar) and Nkechi Okoro Carroll (Bones) to help advance their underrepresented peers. "It's been unbelievable," says Carroll of the article's ripple effects. "I'm hearing from people that 'BWB inspired me.' I've had producers and presidents of networks reach out, 'Do you know if anyone in your group is looking to staff and at what level?''"

With streaming services spiking the need for creators and a rising imperative to reach undertapped demographics, people who might have felt like they were competing for the same few jobs are now more inclined to refer peers to projects and mentor assistants, often via networking groups. “It’s a relationship-based industry," says Nithya Raman, executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment, which helps raise the profile of people of color and LGBTQ talent through get-togethers. She adds: "Your next job depends on maintaining relationships.” Adds April Reign, the activist who created #OscarsSoWhite and who has hosted meetups herself: “This is a great way for artists and creatives to get together and find a sense of community."

Most clubs vet membership (Facebook groups are the best way to make contact) and meet once a month or quarterly at members' houses or restaurants. THR gets the scoop on 14 notable groups.

  • Asian Women Writers Brunch

    With a little help from the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment's expansive contact list, this East and South Asian group (inspired by BWB) has amassed a squad of 50-plus members since launching in February. The potluck posse includes producers Yahlin Chang (The Handmaid's Tale) and Oanh Ly (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), as well as executive producers Angela Kang (The Walking Dead) and Maurissa Tancharoen (Agents of SHIELD). "People get candid: One agent actually said to a writer, 'We serve the one percent,' " says co-founder Melinda Hsu Taylor, who has written for The Vampire Diaries and is currently executive producer and showrunner of an untitled Nancy Drew pilot. “But we try to keep it positive — we want to build community.”

  • The Barcid Foundation

    "A lot of us come from rural backgrounds — we don't have the same opportunities," says Ian Skorodin, the writer-director behind this group that's bringing more Native American writers into the industry. He created a writers group of 60 in 2012, and a writers lab in 2016, where companies such as NBCUniversal, Disney and HBO offer advice to up-and-comers. So far, Barcid "fellows" have been staffed on TBS' Final SpaceNinjago and Powderkeg, the digital-content company from Paul Feig (Bridesmaids).

  • Black Gay Brunch

    "This is a social group: It's 30 percent 'Hey, girl!' and 70 percent 'Let's do some shit!'" says Empire writer Cameron Johnson, who plans BGB's events. Johnson works alongside co-founder Ben Cory Jones (showrunner and co-creator of BET's Boomerang) to lead this 75-member group comprised of producers (e.g., Dear White People's Justin Simien), writers, executives (Warner Bros.' Peter Dodd), actors, agents and managers. Since 2013, the group has gotten together every six to eight weeks at L.A. restaurants and bars, while making efforts to invite more gender-nonconforming and trans members, queer women, and even doing a crossover brunch with The Clubhouse (see below). Says Jones: “It’s not a crusade, it’s a community.”

  • The Clubhouse

    "We wanted to create a fellowship," says Danny Tolli (The Catch) of this gay Latinx group founded two years ago. Each month, approximately 14 screenwriters — among them Steven Canals (Pose), Eduardo Cisneros (Fox Searchlight's Upgraded) and Moisés Zamora (Netflix's upcoming Selena) — meet to share their work and challenges. At Clubhouse's "cafe-citos," managers, agents and execs offer advice on working the system. Inclusion powerhouse and Warner Bros. producer-writer Wendy Calhoun (Nashville) has invited the group to lunch workshops. “Our names are getting out there in a way they haven't before,” says Tolli, adding: "Showrunners have reached out asking to see our 'list.' "

  • Creative Minorities Initiative

    With a membership close to 500, CMI, led by director-producer Yumna Khan since 2016, hosts mixers three times a year. Organizers recently added workshops to address the needs of its writers, directors, producers and actors. "A lot of actors," Khan notes, which is why the first workshop was dubbed "Free Headshot Day." Special guests have included writer-story editor Sabir Pirzada (Roswell) and actor Mike Bow (The Maze Runner). As a group, CMI often confronts the difficulty of landing jobs. Says Khan, “We’re all in this together.”

  • Latin Tracking Board

    These 182 young execs run the gamut from assistants to agents, working everywhere from Universal to Netflix to ABC, yet many are the only Latinx at their company. "Everyone knows each other by a few degrees of separation," says co-founder Alvie Hurtado, who works at Will Packer Productions. Attendees mingle with industry leaders at monthly events, and LATB has helped place assistants in jobs and writers at agencies.

  • Latina TV Writers Brunch Group

    In 2015, writer Diana Mendez (Rosewood) founded this 100-plus Latinx creative group, hosted by the likes of One Day at a Time's co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett. "This is a marathon," Mendez says of the efforts to place members. After meeting writer Judalina Neira at a gathering, executive producer Valentina Garza (Jane the Novela pilot) introduced Neira to executives at 3Pas Studios for development opportunities. Meanwhile, Vida scribe Tanya Saracho has staffed her show through the group, which also has a listing (aka La Lista) that they share with executives and showrunners across the industry. 

  • The Melanated Brunch

    Inspired by BWB, Melanated started in January and boasts 32 women of color of all sexualities; most work in writing assistant positions. Members must have at least one credit on a show, and include talent from Veep and A Million Little Things. "We talk about how the industry is pretending to be diverse," founder Jerrica Long says of the bimonthly meetings where everything from pay inequity to finding professional support is discussed. "But real change isn't happening, because it doesn't include promoting diverse support staff."

  • Muslim Women in Film & Television

    The Islamic-American group of 40 women formed in February, after taking a cue from BWB. Writers, editors, directors, cinematographers, producers and a Disney accountant populate the monthly brunches. Topics include boundary issues with men in the industry, as well as the disparity between opportunities for Muslim men (think Aziz Ansari, Ramy Youssef) and women. "We're happy for them," says writer-director and group co-organizer Sahar Jahani. "But would it be the same for a Muslim woman?"

  • An Evening With Phenomenal Women

    ICM Partners' Andrea Nelson Meigs co-founded the dinner in 2016 with five colleagues after noticing the dearth of women of color in senior agent positions. “The first year, one of our attendees was an executive, and two years later, she did not have a job, but still came,” says Nelson Meigs, adding: “This year, she’s a senior executive at a major production company, because people at this dinner are looking out for her.” Named after a Maya Angelou poem, the group meets each spring to celebrate achievements, drawing about 50 women, including Michelynn Woodard (a former CAA executive who runs the philanthropic arm of J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot), Yvette Noel-Schure (of Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment), Suzanne de Passe (the legendary Motown exec turned producer), NBCU's Pearlena Igbokwe, Netflix's Channing Dungey, producer Debra Martin Chase, producer Stephanie Allain (Dear White People), Niija Kuykendall (vp film production at Warner Bros.), and Ethiopia Habtemariam (president of Motown). “We don’t have an agenda,” Nelson Meigs adds. “It’s more of a free flow of conversation."

  • Posted Up: Black Postproduction Collective

    Co-founder Leander Sales, an industry vet and adjunct lecturer at USC School of Cinematic Arts, got his start on Spike Lee's School Daze. "There’s a sense of entitlement on union films. They were used to white members doing black films," says Sales. "Spike would say, 'OK, I'll let these white people be on School Daze, but they have to have black assistants, to keep training people.' " Posted Up, which began in 2016, is built around a Facebook group of 679-plus postproduction pros (editors, colorists, effects people, sound designers) who emphasize mentorship and job placement. Members such as co-founder Dominique Ulloa (Surviving R. Kelly), Shannon Baker Davis (Queen Sugar, Grown-ish) and James Wilcox (Genius) meet at least once a month at black-owned businesses. Says Sales: "A few months ago, we met at Nipsey Hussle's place."

  • Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity

    "We're trying to tie all the diverse groups together, with one voice," says founder Y. Shireen Razack, a supervising producer on NBC's New Amsterdam, of the 2-year-old writers group that draws more than 200 women, nonbinary, people of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities. "The narratives are different, but the problem of getting hired and how we’re treated in the writers room are the same." TTIE is known for its inclusion study funded by Pop Culture Collaborative, and has a "steering committee" that includes writers for Station 19, "a new Marvel entity" and Geoffrey Thorne, showrunner for the Black Panther animated series. Clearly, the demand is there: The last bar meetup drew upwards of 200 writers.

  • Time's Up Entertainment

    The Hollywood affiliate of the workplace equity group, which has a mailing list of 2,000, hosts mentorships and networking groups for women of color, such as the panel at Sundance 2018 featuring Tessa Thompson. They also nurture more specific groups to address unique, above- and below-the-line struggles. “I do see it growing as friends encourage other friends to attend,” says Michelle Jones, TUE’s program manager. For instance, A+, an Asian-American subgroup, includes writer Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and producer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Family Guy), while the Black Women Gather group recently convened at a brunch hosted by UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who specializes in race and gender, and activist Brittany Packnett.

  • Women of Color Unite

    With partial backing from Viacom's executive VP of global inclusion strategy Marva Smalls and CBS Diversity's Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i, founder Cheryl Bedford, a line producer on The Affair, ensures that events stay free. “I was like, ‘That’s one of the ways they keep us out,'” says Bedford. The group includes casting vet Tracy Byrd (Fruitvale Station), directors of Queen Sugar and Netflix producers. Conversations cover sexual harassment, navigating the industry and "being made to feel like you're an affirmative-action hire," says Bedford, who also created The JTC List, a database of 600 industry women of color — The Gersh Agency, CAA, Pearl Street, Disney, Viacom, Amazon and Fox Digital Studios have all reached out for job placements and content.

    Updated May 2 at 1:31 p.m.

    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.