Annenberg talks about diversity in film

Following the release of a comprehensive study on Hollywood’s lack of diversity, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism hosted a panel with some of the industry’s key decision-makers Monday night for a discussion on how to increase representation of women and minority groups both on and behind the screen.

The event, titled “Inclusion or Invisibility?” was put on by Annenberg’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative and moderated by Stacy Smith, the initiative’s creator and a professor of communication at Annenberg. The panel consisted of Stephanie Allain, film producer and director of L.A. Film Festival; Pete Nowalk, creator of the ABC series How to Get Away with Murder; and Cathy Schulman, head of production for STX Entertainment.

Smith, along with her team of more than 100 undergraduates, found that females are underrepresented on screen across the entertainment ecosystem. According to the study, there is a lack of both female executives and women involved in the production process behind the camera.

“We don’t have a diversity problem, we have an inclusion crisis,” Smith said.

Ernest J. Wilson, dean of Annenberg, provided the opening remarks, saying that diversity and inclusion need to improve in the industry in order for real change to occur.

“Diversity is nice, inclusion is important — but frankly, it ain’t enough,” Wilson said. “This is only the beginning, a starting point. The idea of change and power has to begin with knowledge.”

But Schulman also noted that progress is being made to address this problem.

“The good news is, it’s changing,” Schulman said. “We are at the tipping point as it regards inclusion. There is a demand to know, and a nervousness about how this is still happening. We’re just at the beginning of putting some plans in motion.”

In addition to working as head of production for STX Entertainment, Schulman is also president of the Women in Film Institute, which serves as a major contributor to Smith’s research. She is also the producer of the Academy Award-winning film Crash.

The MDSC Initiative produces research ranging from topics such as stereotypes pertaining to race and gender on-screen, employment patterns in the entertainment industry and barriers facing women in Hollywood.

The event follows the release of the initiative’s latest study, which provides a statistical analysis of a “whitewashed” Hollywood, following controversy prompted by the release of the 2016 Academy Award nominations, in which for the second year in a row, all 20 of the acting nominees were white.

Smith, along with her research team and co-authors of the study Dr. Katherine Pieper and Marc Choueiti, examined the inclusivity of Hollywood in three central areas: on-screen portrayals of gender, race/ethnicity and the LGBT community, hiring practices behind the camera and the number of female executives in the industry.

“It’s so important who is at the table,” Allain said. “Any business that creates images that travel the world has to have a diverse group of people at the table.”

Smith concluded that some groups are still underrepresented on screen. Behind the camera, females face exclusionary hiring practices. However, Nowalk agreed with Smith’s final conclusion that television and digital are more inclusive than film.

“TV is so different from movies because you can really discover the character,” Norwalk said. “Casting Viola Davis [in How to Get Away with Murder] really changed the journey of the character. TV is different because it’s a much more collaborative and long term process.”

At the end of the panel, Allain stressed that consumers are responsible for increasing diversity in the entertainment industry .

“When we talk about wanting diverse voices and seeing movies directed by women and people of color, it is incumbent upon us,” Allain said. “You can’t ask for that, then not support it when it’s in front of you.”