Starz Launches #TakeTheLead Inclusion Initiative to Amplify Underrepresented Groups

Power 50 Cent BTS Starz
Courtesy of Starz/Myles Aronowitz

Premium cabler Starz is looking to emphasize its commitment to storytelling about and by underrepresented groups with a new inclusion initiative it is calling #TakeTheLead. The effort will include a monthly series of talks with agencies, guilds and organizations such as the ACLU of Southern California and California Film Commission and conclude with a summit.

The initiative ties into the network’s programming mandate to amplify underrepresented voices, Hirsch told Variety. The talks will take place on a monthly basis, and will be open to the public.

“We thought it was important not only to have talks with outsiders, not just in the industry, but people that can bring perspective on what other industries are doing in the same vein,” he said.

A UCLA inclusion study that Starz commissioned found that Starz’s executive team is three-quarters women and 50% people of color (all of whom are women), while its series leads are nearly 58% women and over 63% people of color. Behind the camera, Starz showrunners are nearly 55% women and 45.5% people of color. Starz is outpacing industry averages for these categories, per the study.

“It’s our hope, through this #TakeTheLead initiative, to highlight different ways to attack those issues, looking at the results that we’ve had, the success that we’ve had in our business, and how it’s [in] the DNA of our company, and we’re hoping to play a bit of a role model for the rest of the industry at large, so that they can look at what we’ve done, whether it’s to feel comfortable that it can be successful, or learn from us,” said Hirsch.

Starz’s current series include “Power” Universe, “P-Valley,” and “Outlander,” as well as upcoming series “Run the World,” “Blindspotting,” “Black Mafia Family,” “Shining Vale,” and “Serpent Queen.”

Hirsch says it starts with the premium cable network’s programming mandate.

“We’ve been relentless about protecting that mandate about putting stories and narratives on the air for women, by women and other underrepresented voices,” he said. “And I think as a leader of an organization, you have to be so relentless about that mandate on every decision you make.”

That means being mindful of inclusion while receiving pitches as well as while assembling the teams that go on to create those shows.

“To be authentic to that audience, you have to have people reflecting that audience — running the shows, in the writers room, in the director’s chairs, and even in the office,” said Hirsch. “Every decision that we make as far as is really based off that mandate and being relentless about protecting it. “

The “Transparency Talks” will start in April and feature panels that include: Melissa Goodman, director of advocacy at the ACLU of Southern California; Dan Halperin and Lisa Kors, former committee co-chairs of PGA’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee; Colleen Bell, executive director of the California Film Commission and former United States Ambassador to Hungary; Jamia Wilson, executive editor and vice president at Random House and former Feminist Press publisher; Madelyn Hammond, president of Madelyn Hammond & Associates, and Yalda Uhls, founder of the Center for Scholars & Storytellers at UCLA, among others.

“The multi-faceted approach to improving representation serves as our guiding principle across our business from programming choices to hiring decisions,” said Hirsch in a separate statement tied to the announcement. “I’m proud that Starz leads the industry with 63.2% series leads who are people of color, 54.6% female showrunners and a 75% female executive team, which is indicative of our deep-seated commitment to representation on screen, behind the camera and throughout our organization. While it is valuable to evaluate how we are measuring up against our directive, it’s even more important to identify opportunities where we can continue to further progress on our mission.”