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Chelsea Handler on Creating Change in Hollywood and More: ‘You Need to Be Informed’

As the news feed continues to expose instances of harassment, workplace inequality and serial abuse in Hollywood and beyond, the time is ripe for Variety’s 2017 Inclusion Summit. The event, which takes place Nov. 1 at the Montage Beverly Hills, will provide activists and industry members alike a forum to discuss issues including diversity, gender, identity and ethnicity in the media. Keynote speakers will include Chelsea Handler, who will open the event with a conversation with civil-rights activist Anita Hill, who became a national figure in 1991 when she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her boss at the U.S. Dept. of Education and the Employment Opportunity Commission of sexual harassment. Claudia Eller, Variety co-editor-in-chief, will moderate a discussion entitled Ending Sexual Harassment in Hollywood with panelists AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson, director Paul Feig, artist Sheila E., actress Connie Nielsen and producer Effie Brown.

“Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele, actress Geena Davis, and directors Lee Daniels, John Singleton and Rodrigo Garcia will also take part in panel discussions and speeches, as will execs from 20th Century Fox, Univision, Hulu and other companies.

For Handler, events such as the Inclusion Summit provide more than an opportunity to speak on subjects that matter to her and fellow activists.

“These kinds of conferences are very valuable with regard to camaraderie,” she says. “The daily grind of the news cycle, and the constant battle of having to stick up for gender parity and women, can become draining on so many levels. So it’s nice when we can all come together in a place where there are stories that are inspiring, and change people’s lives and the trajectories of how businesses and media are handled.”

Among the subjects covered during the one-day event are the struggle for gender balance in the industry, issues of inclusive storytelling, inclusive brand innovation and Latino entrepreneurship in the media industry. For Handler, staying informed about topics like these is key to creating change, both within the industry and in one’s community.

“You need to be informed,” she says. “It’s about educating yourself. It’s about motivating yourself and not standing by and hoping that other people fix things for you. You can’t sit around and complain and not be active.”

For Davis, events such as these are a chance to underscore how commitment to diversity can have a positive effect on the entertainment business. “We want to really impact the industry and show successful films that can have a very strong female presence and diversity in them reflecting the real world,” the actress says.

“We want to really impact the industry and show successful films that can have a very strong female presence.”
Geena Davis

Davis has worked to inform and encourage the industry to promote stronger female characters and increased presence in entertainment through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media at Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles.

“When I saw the profound dearth of female characters I was absolutely stunned,” says Davis. “As a mother in the 21st century, I’m thinking, how can we possibly be showing kids the world bereft of a female presence and expect those same girls to grow up valuing girls equally? We conducted research on 2015-16 films starring a female character and found that they made more money at the box office — a 16% higher intake — than movies starring men. This is important. It’s not just the right thing to do, to increase diversity in film, but also a way to make money.”

For both Davis and Handler, the key to creating change is educating and encouraging individuals to take what they’ve learned and apply it to their everyday lives.

“I have a lot of resources, so I’m able to “I’m able to use my television show and my social media as a platform to engage and bring discussion to people. But if you don’t have those resources, which most people don’t, then you have to dive in and get involved on a local level. Go to a city council meeting and find out who your congressperson is. All of these things are actionable.”

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