Will Packer, 'OITNB,' 'Good Place' Stars Talk Barriers to Increased Inclusion

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Hello Sunshine CEO Sarah Harden and 'This Changes Everything' doc team Maria Giese and Tom Donahue also spoke about ways to improve representation in front of and behind the camera at the Bloomberg Equality Summit.

The success of projects like Black Panther, The Good Place and Crazy Rich Asians, in addition to the burst of content in recent years, has painted a picture of a more diverse, equally accessible and successful entertainment industry. However, during this year’s Bloomberg Equality Summit, some behind the movement for increased Hollywood inclusion said that despite the press, the industry is still not doing enough to address the lack of opportunity for disabled people, women, LGBTQ individuals and people of color in creative roles.

The state of Hollywood diversity was the subject of two entertainment-focused panels at the day-and-a-half-long conference held earlier this week in New York. Prominent celebrity activists, entertainment non-profit and Hollywood creatives like The Good Place's Jameela Jamil, Orange Is the New Black actress Jackie Cruz, Hello Sunshine CEO Sarah Harden, writer-director Maria Giese and others were featured as part of the event, which put various industry leaders in conversation about the present and future stakes of equality.

During Wednesday’s “Why Representation Matters” panel, Girls Trip producer Will Packer said Hollywood is reactive in its approach to storytelling, leaving audiences with the power to determine the kinds of stories that are told.

“What we're seeing right now is the great democratization of media,” Packer said. "People are consuming what they want, when they want, how they want it. So it doesn't matter if people in fancy offices in Hollywood are saying, ‘Well, we're only going to release content on a certain date and only in theaters and that's how you have to come.’ It's like, it doesn't matter. Audiences, they ultimately will decide what is consumed, how it's consumed and how it's created.” 

Combined with a rapid increase in content, there is space and interest for narratives that “look like the world looks today” while in turn helping Hollywood “cut through all the clutter,” according to Packer. But audiences having more control to demand certain kinds of content doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more diversity, say Giese and Tom Donahue, who were behind the documentary film This Changes Everything.

While the number of projects has gone up, Giese and Donahue explained during a post-screening panel on Tuesday night that there’s been only a minimal shift in the opportunities for creatives that have historically been left or kept out of front-of-screen and behind-the-camera roles.

“It seems like now content is open to everybody, right?” Donahue, director of This Changes Everything, told the panel crowd. “But if you look at the data, proportionally it's still pretty much the same. It hasn't really changed. A lot of those shows on Netflix and Hulu are where there's less money, and where there's less money, there's going to be more people of color and women getting the opportunity to make their shows.”

“There is more content being made, [but it] doesn't translate to more women [getting] hired,” Giese followed up.

Along with a misrepresentation of representation in the industry’s growing sea of content, properly enforcing Title VII and Equal Employment Opportunity laws was another issue several panelists identified as an ongoing hurdle to addressing representation. Giese called Title VII “fundamentally unenforceable” in an entertainment and media industry that has historically been self-policed and will blacklist anybody that wants to invoke the law.

The director of When Saturday Comes went on to highlight how crew and creative team roles are categorized by employment law, something that directly impacts the ability to hold productions, studios and networks accountable for their hiring practices.

“When you define the director role in feature films and in commercials, under the guidelines and categorizations of the [Equal Opportunity Employment Commission], those jobs are independent contractor jobs, and the EEOC has no purview over independent contractors,” Giese told the panel audience. “It’s only over employees and television directing jobs.”

She noted that distinction had a trackable impact on the number of female director hires in episodic TV. Back in 2013, the director said, the number of women being hired to direct TV episodes was just 13 percent, compared to 2018’s 25 percent. Meanwhile, Donahue pointed out that of the top 250 films of 2017, 89 percent were directed by men while in 2018 that increased to 92 percent.

Speaking alongside the This Changes Everything creatives, Vida and Orange Is the New Black star Jackie Cruz added that increased inclusion would come through providing more opportunities for different people to be writers, directors and actors. But to do that, the men and white women in power need to help create more opportunities, particularly when it comes to getting equal pay for all women in Hollywood.

“We need more equality when it comes to the women's side of things, because again, women of color get paid less, and if the white women who are getting paid the most among us don't say, ‘Hey, I believe this is wrong, we should all get paid the same,’ then things will stay the same,” Cruz told The Hollywood Reporter. “No one's going to really listen to the one who's getting paid the least, you know?”

For Cruz, who launched her own production company, Unspoken Film, and is currently producing an LGBTQ short featuring a Puerto Rican lead, it’s also about getting marginalized women to unite. That includes her own Latina community, which during the panel she said can feel like “there's no unity.”

“Ava [DuVernay] is one of the women who has opened doors to women of color, and I feel like we need more women like that. There’s not enough,” Cruz said. “African-American women have been on the front lines fighting for rights and all these things for us, for all women, and I feel like maybe the Latin community is behind. I feel like we need to unite, kind of like the African-American community, because we don't.”

On Wednesday’s panel, where she was a featured panelist alongside Packer and Harden, Jameela Jamil echoed sentiments about being more inclusive in creating opportunity, encouraging Hollywood to look beyond the categories of race and gender when addressing a continuing lack of visibility in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood.

“While we're talking about the future and we're talking about inclusion and different spending power, I hope that Hollywood will not just go as far as just racial inclusion and female inclusion, but also look at disability inclusion and more stories of LBGTQ+ communities,” Jamil said. “We are still erasing those people. … We need to think about the huge opportunities that are being lost by excluding those people.”