Chapman University’s Dodge College teamed with Glamour to host a panel of Hollywood heavy-hitters Friday afternoon called “Women in Focus: Women, Big Tech and the Future of Hollywood.” It featured Walt Disney Television chairman of entertainment Dana Walden, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, actress and producer Eva Longoria, Full Frontal host Samantha Bee, politician, author and producer Stacey Abrams and Glamour editor-in-chief Samantha Barry.
Moderator Janice Min, a contributing editor at Time and former co-president of The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard Media Group, wasted no time in kicking off the conversation with two direct questions aimed at Abrams, starting with whether she had been offered a cabinet position in the Biden/Harris White House and if she plans to once again run for governor in Georgia.
“I was very clear that my goal was to make certain that the Biden Harris team got elected and that I would do whatever I could to make them successful in their endeavors but I did not seek a position in the White House itself,” Abrams answered to the first one. Regarding the second, she checked an undecided box. “I do know there’s a governor’s race coming up in ’22 but I’m working on making sure we have democracy in Georgia in ’22. That’s currently my focus.”
On that note, Min asked Abrams to respond to the controversial voting legislation that was recently passed in Georgia and how it led to Major League Baseball to pull its All-Star Game from Atlanta. All eyes are on the state amid calls for a wider boycott, something Abrams has said she is not in favor of — yet.
“I respect that boycotts work best when the target of your boycott is responsive, and unfortunately we are not dealing with good actors here,” she said, in reference to Republican officials like Governor Brian Kemp. “The Governor of Georgia is reveling in the potential of a boycott because it gives him someone to blame for his own actions. Unlike previous boycotts I’ve worked in the South, the length of time it takes for a big concerted effort to take effect, it can be devastating to an economy, devastating to people.”
"Governor of Georgia is reveling in the potential of a boycott because it gives him someone to blame for his own actions," Stacey Abrams on boycott today on @CU_DodgeCollege & @glamourmag panel moderated by Janice Min w/Eva Longoria, Samantha Bee & Barry, Jen Salke, Dana Walden. pic.twitter.com/l7Ne7d7RiF
— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) April 10, 2021
Abrams said her deep concern in the wake of the “terrible, vicious” legislation is that if a boycott is called, the people who are helping change the economic and political landscape in the state will be left behind. “My message is stay and fight. Come and lift up your voices and join us but don’t let them force out the very people we need to have here and the very jobs we need to have here to make potential change real in the South. Come, stay, fight and we’ll get it done.”
Min asked Salke to respond to the situation in Georgia, both from a professional standpoint and from a personal one as a politically active individual. “In this case, [like] the last time there were questions in Georgia, we really work with our creative partners to make sure that we make that decision together,” Salke said. She went on to single out filmmaker Barry Jenkins who was filming in the state a year ago and he felt very strongly that they needed to support Georgia production. “For us, right now, we only have one movie that we’re shooting in Georgia and that team feels similar similarly to Stacey that the best thing to do is to stay the course and be supportive of those teams in Georgia that are working so passionately on the content.”
The wide-ranging discussion featured talk of bullying, cancel culture, the future of big tech, the controversy swirling around New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (who has been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct), and on Hollywood’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Min wanted to know if the panelists are seeing real change on the ground.
Walden said they’re about to announce at the top of next month a new BIPOC programming initiative at Hulu that’s going to be run by Tara Duncan who is currently president of Freeform. “It is programming that is by BIPOC storytellers for BIPOC audiences curated by executives of color, high-level leaders inside of our organization,” she revealed, adding that the main difference she’s seeing today is that inclusion has gone from diverse casts to the boardroom. “It’s a diverse group of executives and the conversations we have as a result of that are effortlessly better for our consumers, our subscribers.”
She then referenced ABC’s set of inclusion standards that the studio implemented last fall, an ambitious set of guidelines to bolster representation in front of and behind the camera. The latest crop of pilots the studio received didn’t meet those standards, she said. “I will tell you for the first time we received some incredibly well-written scripts that did not satisfy our standards in terms of inclusion, and we passed on them,” Walden explained. She cited an example of receiving a script centered on a white family with the assumption that the diversity would come with the neighbors. “Pass,” she said. “That’s not going to get on the air anymore because that’s not what our audience wants. That’s not a reflection of our audience and I feel good about the direction we’re moving.”
Salke also revealed a forthcoming announcement, calling it a “big inclusion policy,” and one that would’ve seemed too far out of reach even a few years ago. “We have to step out there aggressively and make it happen,” she said. “I see huge changes.” One major shift is happening during greenlight conversations when the question inevitably comes up, “Does this move forward our goals about amplifying under-served voices?”
On the subject of cancel culture, Walden said she worries a lot about today’s young women who are learning to find their voices as they’re being encouraged to stand up and not accept poor behavior while, at the same time, facing a culture of perfection and a society that is largely reluctant to forgive.
“For those who’ve experienced cancel culture who want redemption, they want to do the work to be back in the industry and regain their jobs, it’s caused a lot of people a lot of pain — a lot of it earned — but getting to the other side of it where our young women can see you don’t have to be perfect and if you make a mistake or screw up, you can apologize and move on, move forward,” she explained.
Salke added that a more thoughtful approach is needed. “Unfortunately, we’ve come to this place of having gone through a series of men who doubled down, lawyered up, or been defensive or thrown out worse than that in their defense, and so the steely ‘leave no door open’ for humanity or forgiveness is one that we all collectively find ourselves in. We really have to look at that.”
“Where’s the humanity and where’s the assumption of going in and thinking that this person is wanting to be redeemed?” asked the Amazon chief, who accepted the position after a sexual harassment scandal led to the ouster of Roy Price who previously held the post. “Are they authentic and willing to do that? And are we giving them the benefit of that doubt?”