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The Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, in partnership with Prime Video/Amazon Studios and The Hollywood Reporter, hosted “Reflections” on Friday, a luncheon geared toward discussing women of color’s rise to the C-Suite.
The hybrid networking event and panel discussion dealt with the realities, challenges and beauty of being women of color in leadership positions in the entertainment industry. THR editorial director Nekesa Mumbi Moody guided the conversation and was joined by Stephanie Tavares-Rance, founder of the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival; Latasha Gillespie, head of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Amazon Studios; and Zola Mashariki, head of Audible Studios.
The conversation began with the question of how things have changed in the last couple of years following the murder of George Floyd, which animated many conversations among the public, but more specifically what true representation and inclusion looks like in the media and entertainment sectors.
“We all knew that after the murder of George Floyd, we had a window of opportunity to do the work, and we knew that white guilt and ally fatigue was soon coming. … The challenge is that along with that, we are also facing an economic recession. It’s a challenging time,” Gillespie shared. “[But] our stories are commercial, [they’re] universal. We just have to be clear that in this climate, all the studios and networks are pulling back, so we have to be strategic in what we are going for right now.”
Tavares-Rance, whose annual film festival is produced by Run & Shoot Filmworks and was established in 2002, spoke about the challenges of securing sponsorship in the early years. Companies would often mention other Black-owned film festivals as competitors, “but wouldn’t do that with Sundance, Tribeca and Telluride,” she said.
The panelists spoke across the past, present and future of their careers – reflecting on how they ascended to the C-Suite, what their considerations are in their current positions, and how they hope to keep elevating and lifting the next generation of women of color leaders up.
“Every year, a student from my class at USC has a film at Sundance, and I’m very proud of that,” Mashariki said. “For me, finding and connecting with people isn’t just about the level, I make space for mentorship. … The C-suite is great, but many of us are never going to get there if you don’t have a couch to cry on, if you feel like you don’t fit.”
Camaraderie between women in the C-Suite, across companies like Disney, Netflix and others, was also a central theme. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to do the same work, we’re trying to change this industry, so we need each other,” Gillespie said.
Previous luncheons have included representatives from OWN, Amazon Studios, Warner Brothers, J.P. Morgan Private Bank, Lionsgate, General Motors, Paramount Media Networks and members of the White House staff.
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