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Social impact agency Propper Daley hosted its second “A Day of Unreasonable Conversation” summit on Thursday, featuring a starry lineup including Kim Kardashian, Uzo Aduba, Chrissy Teigen, B.J. Novak and director and producer Scott Budnick.
The invite-only event — produced in collaboration with culture change agency Invisible Hand, with The Hollywood Reporter as a media partner — took place at Beverly Hills’ The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and featured a full day of programming designed to unite television writers, producers and executives with cultural changemakers. The day’s multiple conversations spanned intellectual humility, mental health, social and economic division, criminal justice, reproductive rights, climate change, responsible tech and more, with the discussions intended to influence future onscreen storylines and help maintain narrative authenticity.
Kardashian and Budnick sat down with host Baratunde Thurston for a “How to Get Sh!t Done in a Divided America” panel, where the two discussed their longtime advocacy for prison reform after discovering how broken the system is, particularly for people of color.
Budnick, who had a fruitful career as producer of many Todd Phillips’ films, left the industry for five years to run the nonprofit The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which works to end mass incarceration in California.
“I took a 90 percent pay cut, left my position of power, couldn’t cast anyone, couldn’t hire anybody, and it was the greatest five years,” said Budnick. “What I realized in the five years of running that nonprofit that it was all about storytelling — all men and women, boys and girls that I’ve worked with was all about telling their stories and humanizing.”
“I think that storytelling is so important because people always ask, ‘How can you help? What can you do?’,” added Kardashian. “Someone once said to me, ‘Why are you working on one case? Work on the policy.’ And I said to them, ‘If you don’t put a face with this rap sheet and you don’t understand’ — people just want safety in the community, they want to feel that way. Unless you hear their story, unless you’ve heard where they’ve come from and where they’re at now, you won’t feel safe if you just read a piece of paper. So the storytelling aspect is so important to get the policy to be able to push through.”
Kardashian said to balance all of her activism work with her businesses and law school classes, “I pretty much have a rule where I’ll take on 10 cases at a time and I can’t really go above that.” Budnick also noted how on he has 300 people from ARC, “all who are formerly incarcerated, that are now union camera folks, union hair and makeup, union wardrobe. It’s been a game changer,” particularly on his films like Just Mercy that deal with criminal justice reform on screen as well.
Of Budnick’s current film plans, through his co-financing company One Community, he told THR he’s looking for “stories that can make an impact on people’s lives but entertaining; entertainment first. Feeding nobody their vegetables, nobody their medicine. We’re bringing you into a big commercial film, television show, docuseries with real movie stars, that’s going to be compelling and entertaining and you don’t know what’s about to happen but you’re going to learn something. You’re going to want to make an impact by the end of it, and we’re going to give you the path to make the impact at the end of it,” he said, citing Get Out and Black Panther as the inspiration.
The summit’s morning programming also saw Aduba perform a dramatic reading of Jonathan Haidt’s essay After Babel and writer-director Billy Ray — who is currently working with Adam McKay on a feature film about the Jan. 6 insurrection — on a panel titled “Radicalization: ‘How Badly Could This Escalate?'”
“We’re learning in the last six years that democracy is a decision; it’s not an absolute like gravity or the sun rising in the morning. Democracy happens when 330 million Americans decide that it must happen and that it must be nurtured and it must be protected and it must be watered,” Ray told the audience. “If we don’t do that, we just simply won’t have one.”
In the afternoon, Novak took part in a discussion about “Road Trips to Deeper Understanding,” where, inspired by the travel he did for his film Vengeance, he encouraged Hollywood to “send people back to wherever their roots are so they can report on things and it’s not just Entourage and shows about people with privilege winning all the Emmys.”
Zazie Beetz moderated a conversation titled “Apocalypse Never: Our Climate Future and BIPOC Solutions,” and in a side chat with THR she revealed her hopes for climate stories onscreen.
“If you’re setting a film in 2022, there’s no world where your story wouldn’t really include a climate conversation, whether it’s about how people are choosing to eat in your show or choosing to transport themselves or the crises potentially going on in the background,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think it has to be about making climate the focal point of every story, but about making climate kind of the landscape of a story — just like how, if you’re making a rom-com in New York City, New York City’s going to play a character in the story.” Teigen was among the final speakers, leading a reproductive rights talk called, “I Made That Choice.”
Propper Daley president Greg Propper, holding the first “Day of Unreasonable Conversation” since 2019 after missing the last two years due to the pandemic, said that the focus this year was “on the issue of intellectual humility and the joy of being wrong, and helping all of us build that muscle of curiosity and asking questions.”
And when it came to booking the talent and wide-ranging conversations, the organization sought to “elevate out of the cable news debate and conversations and just try to have a more nuanced conversation about issues. I think most people want that, it’s just hard to find,” added Propper. “I do think people care, it’s just a question of, can we lure them out of their writers’ rooms and off of their productions for a day to join us long enough to hear it.”
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