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African-American Showrunners Talk Strides in TV Representation

In observance of Black History Month, the Paley Center for Media hosted a panel of African-American creators, executive producers, and showrunners to discuss the current state of the industry Tuesday night in Beverly Hills. The event, “They Run the Show: African-American Creators and Producers in Conversation,” was part of the center’s installment, African-American Achievements in Television: A Black History Spotlight.

With the difficulties facing black creatives in the industry — namely breaking in and staying in — “Power” showrunner Courtney A. Kemp believes the number one priority to resolving some of these issues is to bring a diverse group to the table. “I think the solution is probably strength in numbers,” she said. “The base priority for me as a showrunner is to make more showrunners of color.”

Kemp summarized her perspective by saying, “I hope that this isn’t the swing of a pendulum, but is the steady march forward in progress, because I would hate to see it swing back.”

Further detailing the stark underrepresentation in writers rooms, “Insecure” showrunner Prentice Penny said that he had a rude awakening after completing his first job as a writer on “Girlfriends.” He recalled, “From ’07 I worked on various white (sitcoms), “Scrubs,” working on other shows, “Happy Endings,” and then it wasn’t until 2015 with “Insecure” that I had worked with another black person. I didn’t work with another black individual for eight years!”

The panelists — which also included “Claws” showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois, “Star” showrunner Karin Gist, and “Marvel’s Luke Cage” showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker — praised the number of black showrunners working concurrently on television today, noting a major increase in the past decade.

Creator of “Dear White People,” Justin Simien, offered his vantage for what real strides would look like. “For me, (it’s) when we no longer have to talk about black shows,” he said. “We are at parity with representation within the country, and we don’t have to call it a black show anymore. We can call it a show.”

Justin Simien, Cheo Hodari Coker, Janine Sherman Barrois, Courtney A. Kemp, Karin Gist, Prentice Penny, and moderator Nischelle Turner Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

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