Film Academy Launches Conversation Series on Race and Gender Equity

Whoopi Goldberg - Getty - H 2019
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'Academy Dialogues: It Starts with Us' will feature the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Taraji P. Henson, Lulu Wang and Delroy Lindo.

The latest addition to Academy Aperture 2025, an initiative of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to improve inclusion in the motion picture industry, is a virtual conversation series — open to Academy members and the public — focused on race and gender equity in film, the organization announced on Thursday.

"Academy Dialogues: It Starts with Us" panels, the first round of which will roll out on the Academy’s YouTube page through October, will “focus on the industry-wide systemic changes that are needed to afford greater opportunities to women and people from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities and to create a new narrative for recovery,” the Academy said in a statement.

Panelists will include Academy board members such as actress Whoopi Goldberg, producer DeVon Franklin and documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, as well as others from across the industry like veteran actor Delroy Lindo, who has been winning raves for his work in Spike Lee’s 2020 film Da Five Bloods; Empire star Taraji P. Henson; and fast-rising writer-director Lulu Wang.

“With our ‘Academy Dialogues’ series, the Academy is creating a space for our members — and the public — to talk about inclusion in a way that is timely, relevant and allows for a meaningful exchange on how to bring systemic change to Hollywood,” Lorenza Muñoz, the Academy’s executive vp member relations and awards, said. “These conversations may be uncomfortable for some, but they are necessary to broaden the stories that are getting told and increase opportunities for those who have been excluded.”

Here is a full listing of the Academy Dialogues virtual panels, as well as when and where to access them.

“The Power of Narrative”

The first presentation in this ongoing series, “The Power of Narrative,” took place on July 21 for Academy members and featured a live conversation between Academy governor Whoopi Goldberg and civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  They discussed the role of narrative storytelling in addressing racial and ethnic inequity and touched upon the lasting impact of racist tropes and harmful stereotypes in Hollywood films. This conversation is now available on YouTube.

“Native Son”

The Academy will present a conversation with Oscar®-nominated director Lee Daniels (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire) and Oscar-winning writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight) about their personal and professional journeys navigating the film industry as Black gay men. Emil Wilbekin, media executive and founder of Native Son, a networking group for professional Black gay men, will moderate the discussion. Available on YouTube on Aug. 27.

“Owning Our Stories”

Bird Runningwater, director of the Indigenous Program at the Sundance Institute, will moderate a conversation with writers Misan Sagay (Belle) and Ligiah Villalobos (Under the Same Moon) and filmmakers Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) and Lulu Wang (The Farewell) on the role that gatekeeping at the studios and production companies has played in preventing authentic stories from being told. Available on YouTube on Sept. 3.

Academy Dialogues: “The Erasure of Latinos in Hollywood”

Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the United States, representing 18 percent of the population, and yet – whether it is in front of the camera, behind the camera or in executive positions – they are largely missing from America’s storytelling.  Moderated by Muñoz, this discussion will explore identity, the complexity of being Latin, the legacies of colonialism, and, most importantly, solutions for inclusion.  Panelists include executive vice president, production, Marvel Studios Victoria Alonso, casting director Carmen Cuba (The Martian), director Nadia Hallgren (Becoming), founder/president, American Entertainment Marketing and co-founder, LA Collab Ivette Rodriguez, among others. Available on YouTube on Sept. 10.

“ICON MANN: We Are the Culture”

In partnership with ICON MANN, a media and consulting company committed to positively transforming the dialogue and image of Black men, the Academy will present a town hall focused on the Academy’s Black membership and the challenges to representation and inclusion in the industry, moderated by Shawn Finnie, the Academy’s associate director of member relations and outreach. Panelists include Oscar-nominated actor and filmmaker Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), actor Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods) and writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Old Guard), among others. Available on YouTube in September.

“ICON MANN Part Two: Investing in Yourself”

Presented in collaboration with ICON MANN, this discussion will explore taking ownership and control of one’s stories and content to find success outside of the traditional Hollywood system.  In conversation with Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List, panelists include producer and Academy governor DeVon Franklin (Breakthrough) and producer Debra Martin Chase (Harriet), among others. Available on YouTube in September.

“Documentaries Through Our Own Lens”

Although the field of talented documentarians is among the most diverse in the entertainment industry, opportunities to tell their stories continue to be a challenge for people from underrepresented racial and ethnic communities.  Academy governor and Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (The Apollo) will moderate a discussion on the systemic changes that need to occur for marginalized communities to be able to tell stories through their own lens.  Panelists include filmmakers Lisa Cortés (All In: The Fight for Democracy), Bao Nguyen (Be Water) and Dawn Porter (John Lewis: Good Trouble). Available on YouTube in October.

“Color-Conscious Casting”

There is a long history of casting decisions that have severely limited the opportunities for actors of color to stereotypes and minor roles, echoing the overtly racist use of blackface in “classic" films, and there remains a ripple effect of Hollywood’s discriminatory history in hiring practices today. The creative collaboration between casting directors and filmmakers offers a tremendous opportunity to better reflect, on screen, the world as it truly is.  This frank conversation will look back at the effects of inequitable and biased casting and look forward to the ways inclusion and authenticity can enrich both our movies and our culture. Available on YouTube in October.

“How Would Gender Parity Change Hollywood?”

Since film is one of the most far-reaching and impactful artforms, what needs to happen for women and girls to see themselves reflected in stories and to find more role models on the screen and behind the camera? How would increasing the number of female directors, producers, executives and others in decision making positions usher in work culture that allows full expression of women’s abilities, leadership skills, intellect and strength? Studies have shown that workplaces with more equity, inclusion and gender balance result in more collaboration, diversity of thought and higher productivity. This Academy Dialogue will dive into what true equity and inclusion means, how it will inevitably lead to a safer work environment and how to normalize and amplify female leadership and empowerment. Available on YouTube in October.

“Broadening the Aperture of Excellence”

The Academy membership’s role as arbiter of excellence in film has been an influential and important one in the past 93 years.  This discussion will center on the importance of broadening the aperture through which cinematic art is viewed and how excellence comes in many forms. Available on YouTube in October.