Variety’s Changemakers Summit, which runs online June 17-18, will feature a series of keynote speakers and panel discussions that will highlight individuals advancing on behalf of equality and elevating underrepresented voices within the entertainment industry.
Notable industry players such as H.E.R., whose song “Fight for You” from Shaka King’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” won best original song earlier this year at the Academy Awards, will reveal how their diverse experiences have shaped their creative direction.
Social impact leader Opal Lee, who is known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, will appear in conversation with Pharrell Williams to discuss her campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday in the United States.
Other conversations during the two-day event will celebrate the accomplishments of communities whose voices are just starting to be heard in Hollywood. For instance, the Elevating Diverse Abilities in Entertainment Production panel will highlight the resources that are helping disabled and neurodiverse community members succeed in the entertainment industry.
Two speakers on this panel, Kate Jorgensen and Xavier Romo, are graduates from Exceptional Minds, a Los Angeles-based school that prepares individuals with autism for careers in animation and visual effects. Jorgensen is a production coordinator at Nickelodeon, while Romo is now a plate lab technician at Marvel Studios.
Although both industry professionals have full-time positions, they will discuss the long road they travelled to get where they are today. Jorgensen says she wasn’t diagnosed until age 17 because the doctors assumed that “girls don’t get autism.”
“Unfortunately, the truth was that we didn’t have very much knowledge and not a lot of people wanted to talk about it,” says Jorgensen.
Even with progress, she notes, there are a lot of subcategories within the disability community that need to be spoken for.
“Right now it’s just the kind of people that can talk well, the ones that are verbal or the ones that are white,” she says.
But thanks to organizations including Exceptional Minds and others that are addressing these inequalities, the tides are turning.
“It’s rapidly changing for the better, but there’s still a long way to go,” says Jorgensen.
Romo is a Mexican American who believes anyone with a disability can accomplish goals by putting in the hard work.
“You have to want to do it yourself,” Romo says. “You can’t be pushed to do it by other people, it just doesn’t work that way. If you’re not putting in the will and the energy, it’s not going to happen.”
While discussions about diversity and inclusion have taken center stage in recent years, they aren’t new.
Sterlin Harjo, the executive producer and creator of FX’s upcoming comedy series “Reservation Dogs,” says he and other Native American storytellers have been advocating for change on diversity panels for a long time.
“We are just now getting the attention of Hollywood and people in this industry,” Harjo says. “There’s this feeling in the industry that they’re discovering it for the first time, but we’ve all been doing it for many years. We’re just doing it outside of the system, and we’re all coming from independent backgrounds.”
Harjo will speak on the Anti-Stereotyping Indigenous Cultures in Media & Entertainment panel alongside Sierra Teller Ornelas, a Navajo Native who serves as an executive producer on Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls.”
While the two Native American storytellers work for different networks, the pair has supported each other throughout the highs and lows of their careers.
“The spirit of this community is that we support each other and lift each other up,” Harjo says. “Sometimes this industry doesn’t encourage that. It encourages hierarchies and competition. Sierra and I have two very different shows, but both are very important to amplifying and changing perspectives on Native people in Hollywood.”
Other panels include Amplifying Underrepresented Voices in Entertainment Storytelling, which will explore the ways creators are advocating for new voices in film and TV; Journalists of Color and Allies Covering Racial Inequality and Violence, which will probe how journalists feel invested in covering hate crimes, systemic racism, police brutality and other social justice issues; and Entrepreneurship Roundtable, a look at experiences entrepreneurs of color and their allies are having in founding and building their own companies.