Stephanie Allain has been a voice for change in Hollywood for decades, first as the studio executive behind John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, a seminal film about race relations in Los Angeles, and, later, as an independent film and television producer championing the voices of creators of color and women. She most recently produced the most inclusive Oscar telecast in history in February, after credits including Dear White People, Hustle & Flow, Beyond the Lights and Biker Boyz. She talks to The Hollywood Reporter about steps to dismantle racism, the urgency of local politics, and how her peers should be calling private school deans demanding inclusive curricula.
When the contract with society is broken, protests are necessary. That’s our mechanism and what we have to do. There have been so many triggers recently — George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and even Amy Cooper — we were already in a matchbox with Trump and his divisive nature, but then came COVID-19 and no plan to keep us safe. We are a wounded nation vulnerable to opportunists and fringe anarchists. It feels like a really scary place. But despite how intense this moment is, it can be our turning point.
If you read the history books and look to what our civil rights and community organizers have been saying for some time, the biggest thing that everybody can do right now is admit that if you do nothing, you’re not part of the solution. That burden should not just fall on black people or underrepresented communities — it is for everybody. Part of the solution is we have to admit that we live in a racist America. Full stop. A lot of people don’t want to, they can’t, or they feel bad saying it loud — but they must. We live in a racist America. It’s systemic and it has to change. There will not be peace until it does.
When something terrible happens or people are affected close to home, they feel bad for a bit, but then nothing changes. My white friends call to see if I’m OK, but the fact is that you can’t do that and go back to life on easy street, so to speak. You have to commit yourself to being part of the solution. Everybody must commit now. So, what does that mean? Many things.
Civil rights leaders have been saying this for the past 50 to 60 years, but now is the time to get together in groups and plot, strategize, organize and mobilize to vote in representatives who believe in overhauling the system so we can extinguish systemic racism. It will take work, but it’s what we have to do. Everybody has to become devoted to putting aside part of the work week to focus on local politics. We can’t just walk into the polling booth and vote for a president and vice president, and be done. We must vote in every local election after researching candidates. We have to inform ourselves.
Change also must start in schools. Every white executive needs to call the private schools where their children are enrolled today and demand they have Black and African American Studies and a fully inclusive curriculum. It’s not there now. I have two black, mixed-race sons, and they were educated in these institutions, and it’s a Eurocentrist curriculum being taught. These kids don’t hear about racism until they are in college or out in the world. By then, it’s too late. We must get to children earlier to teach civics and the broader history of all people so that when kids grow up, they know what our government is supposed to look like and how it should function so they don’t get broadsided by an imposter who thinks he can change the rules.
As Tim Wise pointed out, if you’ve never experienced persecution, segregation or racism, why would you even think about it? If you’re right-handed, you wouldn’t think about those who need left-handed scissors. Why would you think about a wheelchair ramp if your legs are working? You wouldn’t. Everyone needs to learn about the scourge of racism and slavery and starting in school is one solution. Make that call and say, “I’m spending $50,000 a year and I want my children to come out with an education that prepares them for the world at large.”
For the last 30 years in Hollywood, we have been talking about diversity and inclusion, and I have been saying the gate-keepers need to be inclusive and represent all voices. When I worked at Columbia Pictures in the ‘90s, I was one of the lone black executives, and I don’t know how much has changed. Of course, there are now inclusion task forces, diversity coaches, human resource experts offering bias training and all of these sidebars, but that’s not going to cut it. People who are sitting at the table must be representative of the folks who are buying tickets.
More deals and more money should be funneled to black and brown creators, writers, directors, producers and artists so they can tell their stories. God bless John Singleton, who said the more specific the story, the more universal it is. That’s the whole point. If you relate to something, it will change your heart and it will change your mind. Not only does this content make money, it’s going to make for a better world. There must be more content of color from people of color, not just white people co-opting stories and telling them for us.
The difference between the uprising in 1992 and right now is the unrest is coming to our front doors. There’s no rioting in South Central. And unless the underlying causes are addressed, our communities, our kids and our lives will not be safe.
We need to get really serious about changing the world. It cannot just be black and brown folks saying the same thing over and over. It’s time for white allies to step up, do something and follow through. Joe Biden needs to pick his black female running mate now. There needs to be a plan and a strategy for how to dismantle systemic racism. That plan cannot come from the current occupants of the White House. We need someone on the ticket who can speak to the millions of people who are hurting. We need that plan now. And at the heart of the plan is a very simple idea: We need to love our neighbors as ourselves.