'Glee,' 'One Day at a Time' Writers Talk Authenticity and Representation With Amnesty International

Change for Balance Amnesty International - Brad - Sanjay - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Change for Balance/Amnesty International

Brad Falchuk, Mike Royce, Nina Yang Bonjiovi and others likened including diverse narratives and characters to hiding broccoli in meatballs. "If it's really entertaining, people don't notice that you're showing them something they don't know."

The creative minds and voices behind titles like Fruitvale Station, Glee and One Day at a Time came together Thursday evening to talk inclusion and authenticity onscreen. 

Amnesty International, which partnered with UCLA's Impact@Anderson, put the stories of immigrants, refugees and other marginalized groups at the forefront of the evening. With around 100 people in attendance, the night started with a series of videos highlighting different immigrant and refugee experiences — one showcasing a young boy's plea to help his friends unable to cross into the United States, another showing people of different ages, colors and backgrounds creating an intimate connection solely through eye contact. 

The night's panel, moderated by Amnesty International USA's Ashley Houghton, featured writers and producers Brad Falchuk, Mike Royce, Nina Yang Bonjiovi, Randall Winston, Marginal Mediaworks CEO and founder Sanjay Sharma and Hotel Mumbai actress Nazanin Boniadi.

The discussion started with the five panelists emphasizing that diversity in the writers room and among television and film executives is among the ways Hollywood can achieve authentic and entertaining storytelling. Falchuk spoke about the hit FX series Pose and its multiple transgender characters.

"You have to approach [your characters] holistically," he said. "If you have a gay character, you have to have someone who's gay [involved in the production]. If you have a trans character, you have to have someone who's trans ... you need somebody there who knows what it feels like to be that person."

Falchuk also spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about Hollywood's increasing diversity and the FX show's Peabody nomination. Though he said he feels that the work he's done has helped bring visibility to often invisible and marginalized groups, recognition in higher institutes such as the Peabody Awards pushes for even more representation. 

During the panel, the writer and producer also noted that diverse storylines and entertaining narratives are not mutually exclusive. He said that integrating diverse and authentic stories into TV and film can be like sneaking broccoli into meatballs. 

"If it's really entertaining, people don't notice that you’re showing them something they don't know," he said. 

Depicting authentic storylines, however, requires nuance and truth, Nazanin Boniadi said. The actress told THR that she believes that preserving the truth, and not sterilizing a plotline for the sake of political correctness, can allow Hollywood to create a more holistic depiction of themes and narratives concerning people of color. 

"I think it's important not to shy away from truth," the actress said. "Unless we understand why these things are happening, there's no way we can stop it."

Other notable moments included One Day at a Time producer Mike Royce recounting how the 2016 presidential election shaped the Netflix show. He said the results of the election were "sort of a bomb to people" and prompted the showrunners to tackle issues relevant to the socio-political climate in various episodes. And though Netflix announced that the series will be canceled, Royce had his own response.

"The show ... will continue because we're going to find another fucking place," he said, bringing cheers and applause from the audience.