Sandra Dewey, president of productions and business operations for WarnerMedia Entertainment, that includes HBO Max, has spoken frankly about “systemic racism” in the U.S. and her and her company’s efforts to redress these issues.
Dewey was delivering a keynote address at the virtual Cannes market on Tuesday. Dewey has long been a champion of gender and diversity at WarnerMedia. For example, the HBO Max development team led by Sarah Aubrey comprises 81% women.
“There is a lot of attention, and deservedly so, on issues of systemic racism in our country, how certain people don’t have an equal opportunities, whether it is jobs, or to tell their stories,” Dewey said. “We as a company are fully committed to doing our best, both to understand that and to address it. I say with some pride that before the immediacy of current events right now, we were deeply into acknowledging that truth and working to be a platform of change.”
Dewey revealed that in addition of 81% of the development group being women, 30% are people of color. “The reason it is so important is that those people are going to shape the stories that we buy and that we develop and curate from the marketplace, and that will be reflected then in the stories that we tell,” Dewey said.
Pre-pandemic, HBO Max had completed production on 72 episodes of content. Of those, 50% were directed by either women or persons of color. “That is so much of an improvement over traditional statistics in our industry,” Dewey said. She revealed that over 60% of shows were written or created by women or people of color. “It is very much a mandate for us and we think it will make our storytelling richer and more interesting for the people who are watching it on our platform.”
In the midst of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, HBO Max pulled “Gone With The Wind” from its schedule. It will make a return soon, with some context provided by film scholar Jacqueline Stewart. “For certain pieces of content, ‘Gone With The Wind’ being one, which reflect racial insensitivities, or racism, or something that requires historical context around the storytelling, this will be our approach for that sort of thing,” Dewey said. “We understand the value and the historical place that these films have, and the stories that were told in their time, and it is important that people see that. We think it important that as people who are carrying messages to our consumers and the public, we provide responsible messaging, along with those messages.”
HBO Max’s international expansion plans remain firmly in place, with Latin America being set for 2021. Europe will be a more complex issue as much of the WarnerEntertainment content is already committed to various European providers, Dewey said.
The eagerly awaited Zack Snyder cut of “Justice League” will bow in “early to mid-2021,” Dewey said, without committing to a date. She also revealed that the first episode of Selena Gomez’s upcoming quarantine cookery show on HBO Max will detail her attempt to make souffle under the tutelage of chef Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre.
Dewey also said that the streamer’s programming mix will be a 50-50 mix of WarnerEntertainment library titles and commissions, and acquisitions. She was particularly bullish on more international content on HBO Max as U.S. viewers were getting increasingly comfortable with watching them.