ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group has established the First Time Directors program for BIPOC and women filmmakers, Variety has learned exclusively.
Under the program, 50 films across Paramount Network, MTV, Comedy Central and the Group’s portfolio will be helmed by first time BIPOC filmmakers and women directors. ViacomCBS has partnered with a number of high-profile executive producers through the program, including Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance, Idris Elba, Salma Hayek, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, and their respective production companies.
“We get to talk and work with these amazing storytellers about the projects they are really passionate about doing,” said Chris McCarthy, president of entertainment and youth brands for ViacomCBS domestic media networks. “When you think about how many women and diverse directors have been coming into the industry, it’s not nearly as many as it should be.”
Production companies include: Bassett & Vance’s Bassett Vance Productions, Elba’s Green Door Pictures, Hayek’s Ventanarosa Productions, Chopra Jonas’ Purple Pebble Pictures, Leguizamo’s Rebel Productions, and Longoria’s UnbelieEVAble Entertainment.
The executive producers will work with the Group’s president of content and chief creative officer Nina L. Diaz and her team to identify the directors, match them with projects, and mentor them through the filmmaking process.
“We are thrilled to partner with these icons of entertainment to cultivate first-time BIPOC and first-time women directors,” said Diaz. “Together, we will give rise to multi-cultural narratives and voices that resonate with audiences around the world.”
The news comes after Variety exclusively reported that Paramount Network will be rebranded as the Paramount Movie Network, with the plan being to program one made-for-tv movie a week. ViacomCBS previously indicated that it is planning to program 100 original movies a year across its portfolio.
Read reactions from the executive producers below:
“We are thrilled to embark upon this very important journey with ViacomCBS in telling stories that are representative of communities of people who are often missing from the majority landscape of film and television,” Bassett and Vance said. “It means opening doors for new and fresh voices, both in front of and behind the camera, something that has always been a top priority for us. We look forward to being a part of a growing coalition of directors, producers, actors and writers who will be the change agents at the forefront of a new, multicultural, and more dynamic workforce in this industry.”
“I’m incredibly proud to join a group of such extraordinary talent and welcome this commitment from ViacomCBS to introduce opportunity into their business model,” Elba said. “When I set up Green Door one of my core philosophies was to promote and encourage a diversity of ideas from new voices who might otherwise be shut out of the industry establishment. I believe that this is a bold step forward and look forward to working with a new cohort of original storytellers across the ViacomCBS E&Y Group.”
“When I founded Purple Pebble Pictures our mission was clear, to create opportunities where there were few, and to tell global stories for global audiences irrespective of location and language,” said Chopra Jonas. “I am proud to say that we have remained true to that mission since the very first day, always prioritizing content over anything else. Not just the U.S., but the world, is a melting pot of different races, ethnicities, and religions, and the entertainment we consume should reflect the world we actually live in. I am proud to join ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group on this initiative to not only tell diverse stories, but to do so from diverse storytellers.”
“Jose Tamez and I started Ventanarosa 23 years ago in an effort to create a space where the stories and voices that had been ignored could find a home, Hayek said. “It is uplifting that after more than two decades of relentless battles, the entertainment industry is finally entering a new era. Thank you, ViacomCBS, for taking action towards a promising future where everyone gets an opportunity, and every culture gets to tell their stories. We are extremely grateful that you included Ventanarosa Productions in your vision.”
“I am so honored and thrilled to partner up with ViacomCBS E&Y to help diversify the industry and help stop the exclusion of Latinx in Hollywood!” said Leguizamo. “We Latinx are 17.5% of the U.S. population and 25% of the U.S. box office, but we’re often fewer than 4% of the faces in front of and behind the camera. We are also painfully absent in the decision makers’ arena with less than 1% of executives. So in brief, our stories are not being told by streamers, networks, or studios. I believe that my collaboration with ViacomCBS E&Y will assure more Latinx talent, writers, directors, directors of photography, and crew will get their opportunities to create and exercise their gifts when they would otherwise be unseen and ignored!”
“The UnbeliEVAble team and I are thrilled to partner with ViacomCBS, specifically their Entertainment & Youth Group, to create and develop diverse and impactful films,” Longoria said. “We’ve been producing content focused on underrepresented communities for a decade and couldn’t be more excited to join this inaugural group of BIPOC and female directors and production companies to introduce a new generation of viewers to stories worth amplifying.”