On Wednesday night, four women from different corners of the entertainment industry gathered for The Future She Built, a conversation about increasing diversity and the role of women in Hollywood. The event was presented by Select Management Group’s Select Impact.
Held at Capitol Records’ Los Angeles headquarters, Capitol Music Group chief operating officer Michelle Jubelirer, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, LA Sparks president Christine Simmons, and USC professor Stacy Smith took part in the discussion, which encompassed how to improve equality in TV, film, music, and sports.
Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, was the mastermind behind the inclusion rider, the initiative that took Hollywood by storm after Frances McDormand mentioned it in her acceptance speech at this year’s Oscars. The inclusion rider is language that actors, producers, and directors can bake into their contracts, demanding that their projects make a concerted effort to cast minorities, LGBTQ actors, and women in supporting and background roles. They can also ask for more diversity in below-the-line positions.
Explaining how she came up with the idea, Smith said, “I just thought to myself, the people who care about inclusion the most in Hollywood are typically the actors. What if we got the top actors to leverage their power? I was originally thinking on screen. You might not realize how bad it is. Across the top 100 films last year, less than a third of all speaking characters are girls and women,” adding that out of those 100, only three were women of color.
Since McDormand’s speech, many in Hollywood, including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Michael B. Jordan, and Paul Feig, said they would be adopting inclusion riders, and Smith detailed a recent meeting she had with agency WME, which said it will now ask every client if they want the initiative in their contracts. That move, the USC professor said, “should change entertainment within a year.”
“There’s only one way to change equity in Hollywood: hiring practices have to change. That’s it, that is the issue and until that happens, these numbers, it doesn’t matter,” Smith said during the conversation. “Until they change who gets auditioned and who gets interviewed, who gets cast and who gets considered, because right now it’s a closed system.”
Elsewhere during the panel, Jubelirer lamented the lack of diversity in the music business, and as one the few female leading music execs, said, “I think it’s critically important, given my role now, that I support anyone and everyone in the business and try to raise people up from underserved populations. Whether that’s women or bisexual men or gay men or Latino men, African-American men, that’s critically important to me and my mission and I take it seriously every day.”
Carteris spoke about her own fight against discrimination and ageism, which she has taken so far as to bring legislation against IMDb for including the ages of actors on its pages. She is currently in a legal fight with Amazon, which owns IMDb, over the issue. Before becoming president of SAG-AFTRA, Carteris starred for years on “Beverly Hills, 90210” as Andrea Zuckerman, which she doesn’t think would be possible now.
“When I was playing Andrea, I was playing the role of a 16-year-old when I was 29 years old,” she said. “If IMDb was around at the time, I never would’ve had the opportunity to play Andrea Zuckerman, which was a life-changer for me and I know that it was a great show for our country, I believe it was significant.”
Simmons also discussed running the only professional women’s sports team in California and the constant struggle to get to draw in viewers in the shadow of men’s sports. The panel was moderated by Essence editor Regina R. Robertson.