×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Dear White People’ Producer Talks Hollywood’s ‘Black Tax’

“Dear White People” and “Leimert Park” executive producer Mel Jones is extremely familiar with growing up and watching “white men in all types of roles and never [seeing] ourselves as a part of those narratives.” Now, there may be some more opportunities for writers of color to tell their own stories, but, she notes, there is still a long way to go before they reach parity.

“There’s a black tax,” Jones said at Lifetime’s “Unmute Her: A Conversation on Lifting Up the Voices of Women” event Tuesday in Los Angeles. “In a film, things cost the same amount but somehow we get less money to make the film because we should be grateful to be there.”

As a part of its Broader Focus and Stop Violence Against Women Initiatives, Lifetime brought together women behind the scenes such as Jones, as well as “Empire” writers and producers JaNeika James and JaSheika James, Kronicle Media co-founders Korin Williams and Monique Nash, writer Kasuba Mukuka, UCLA Professor Dr. Aparna Sharma, and psychotherapist and author Stacy Kaiser.

Nash noted that it isn’t enough for those creating content to be diverse, but also the executives who are the gatekeepers to getting that content made, as well.

Popular on Variety

“A lot of times [Korin and I] go in rooms, we’re selling [and] pitching projects to people that don’t look like us,” she said. “So, there is sometimes a lack of understanding of what we’re pitching. Then, we’re being told the stories that we’re pitching are not authentic because it’s not an expected experience of what their preconceived ideas are.”

Williams echoed her creative partner’s sentiments, adding, “You’re educating at the same time you’re trying to sell a deal.”

The panelists pointed to Mukuka as an example of giving new, female writers the opportunity to pitch their ideas. Mukuka is an executive assistant in Lifetime’s movie department and is receiving support from the network to develop a script she wrote about the domestic violence in Zambia. Mukuka is originally from the African country and is using her knowledge and understanding of the culture to write a short that will be produced this spring.

The importance of understanding was further emphasized as the James sisters spoke about the recent alleged hate crime against “Empire” star Jussie Smollett. JaSheika James wore a sweatshirt with Smollett’s picture on it to show her support. JaNeika James said the event “completely rocked and horrified our entire community.” She added that the show’s current fifth season is too far along to address Smollett’s alleged attack, but that it is possible the issue could be a storyline in a future season.

“We do work to kind of address some of these issues…We have in past episodes,” JaNeika James said, noting the story they did in Season 3 when Tiana’s friend was punched in the face in a club. “We’ll see what happens going forward.”

More Scene

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker Honored at David Lynch Foundation's Women of Vision Awards

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker and Deborra-Lee Furness were celebrated for their charitable work at the David Lynch Foundation’s 2019 Women of Vision Awards. “We are all being guided to come together as one. There is so much chaos in the world right now,” Karan said, while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual luncheon on [...]

  • Bill Hader

    Bill Hader, Greg Berlanti, Margie Cohn and Cindy Holland Inducted Into Variety Hall of Fame

    Variety’s annual Hall of Fame ceremony mixed comedy, gratitude and warmth at the annual awards ceremony Tuesday night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Because the class of 2019 celebrates technical innovation and achievement across film, TV, digital, video games and music. The honorees — Greg Berlanti, Bill Hader, Cindy Holland, Dametra Johnson-Marletti, [...]

  • Billy Porter FNAA

    Billy Porter Explains Why Fashion 'Can and Should' Be Activism

    On Tuesday in New York City, a handful of fashion’s marquee names, including Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden and Pete Nordstrom, and many of its muses, including Billy Porter, Lena Waithe, Adriana Lima and Paris Hilton, gathered to celebrate the annual Footwear News Achievement Awards — or, as it’s more colloquially dubbed, the “Shoe Oscars.” Activism and the potential for designers to spur [...]

  • Tiffany Haddish Black Mitzvah

    Barbra Streisand Gives Tiffany Haddish Star of David Necklace for Her 'Black Mitzvah'

    Tiffany Haddish rang in her 40th birthday Tuesday night by celebrating her black and Jewish heritage with a star-studded “Black Mitzvah” party. One of Haddish’s famous friends, Barbra Streisand, was noticeably absent from the festivities, but sent the comedian a special memento for the occasion. “She got me this beautiful Star of David,” Haddish told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content