Elizabeth Banks Champions Female Comedians at 4th Annual AT&T Shape Conference

Elizabeth Banks_AT&T SHAPE - Getty - H 2019
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for AT&T

"I've never gotten a job and not gotten someone else a job. That's first. For me, I just feel like when you have a certain position, use it to bless other people. I would feel horrible if I coveted this opportunity only for myself," 'Claws' star Niecy Nash said of the importance of paying it forward once you’ve experienced success in Hollywood.

Thousands of guests showed up at Warner Bros. Studio over the weekend to participate in the fourth Annual AT&T Shape Conference. The conference is meant to explore the intersection of entertainment and technology, and attendees were able to hear from speakers as diverse as Tyra Banks, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, Elizabeth Banks and NASA astronaut Capt. Sunita Willams.

A panel featuring Geena Davis and Mayim Bialik discussed the Scully Effect, the idea that the X-Files character Dana Scully was an inspiration for women to study the sciences, and the importance of onscreen representation of women in STEM.

Bialik, who has a PhD in neuroscience, said that it was important on The Big Bang Theory to break stereotypes when portraying scientists and show that they can be happy socially as well as accomplished professionally.

“It turned out to be a lovely coincidence that we were showing the world a group of nerds and geeks, men and women who had successful social lives and interesting career lives and they weren’t afraid to be interested in the things they were interested in," she said. "Our show wasn’t big on diagnosis and medication, it was a show about a group of people just kind of being themselves in the science world, and that’s what my life and many of our lives are like.”

The importance of representation was a topic that came up repeatedly during the weekend. Melissa V. Murray is a young director who is a graduate of the Ghetto Film School, a program dedicated to providing a professional film education to teens from diverse backgrounds.

She told The Hollywood Reporter that the entertainment industry needs to look beyond elite film schools to find the next generation of storytellers: “When you look at finding folks in the South Bronx, finding folks in South Central L.A. or finding folks in different parts of L.A., you have to go where the people are. I’m not going to meet you at NYU, because why would I be there? If I can’t get in there, I can’t afford it, then I’m assed out, right? You have to meet the kids where they are ... Make sure you show that everyone is accounted for, which is something that industry hasn’t ever done.”

The conference was about more than just lectures and panels, though, with guests having the opportunity to interact with high tech activations from Magic Leap, Samsung, Nokia and Airstream, which showcased the latest in virtual reality, augmented reality and 5G technology.

Magic Leap's Game of Thrones experience may have been the conference’s most popular. The technology allows individuals to don a pair of glasses and do battle with fully realized virtual zombies and white walkers in a three-dimensional space and has applications for education, gaming and business.

Sherri Shepherd and Niecy Nash may have had the funniest and most raucous panel of the weekend, with Shepherd telling Nash she looked like “a box of Crayola crayons” in her colorful striped top and also complimenting her on her sex scene on Nash’s show Claws.

In a more serious moment, Nash spoke to the importance of helping others rise up behind you, once you’ve had success. “I’ve never gotten a job and not gotten someone else a job," said the actress. "That’s first. For me, I just feel like when you have a certain position, use it to bless other people. I would feel horrible if I coveted this opportunity only for myself, and it's easy to do. Why? You're right at the top of the call sheet. It don’t cost you nothing to say, 'I know somebody who can play some music on this movie,' 'I know someone who wants to be a PA or a director.' 'Let me refer a hair or makeup person.'”

In a conversation with Laverne Cox, Banks discussed how she uses her website WhoHaHa to spotlight female comedians: “WhoHaHa is a digital platform that is aimed at incubating female comedic talent, and it was partially born out of the digital age and social media in general. ... WhoHaHa is a great incubator of talent, and it allows us to reach out and find creative women at their level, and it's also a way of saying to women, 'There are no barriers anymore.'"

The weekend had a summer camp feel, with guests enjoying warm weather as well as a number of activities and a wide variety of food. Food trucks were scattered throughout the backlot and offered everything from sushi to BBQ to pizza and even poutine.

The conference places as much of an emphasis on fun as it does on education, and each day ended with a themed dance party including disco and '80s music.