While growing up in Washington, D.C., John Gibson didn’t always see the Black community represented in film and television.
“Movies were always important to me. They were inspirational, aspirational escapism when things weren’t great,” Gibson tells Variety. “But in movies and TV shows about my city, I didn’t see my community. And if I did, I didn’t see the diversity within the Black American experience.”
The MPA launched a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program in 2012, which has been led since its founding by John Gibson, VP of external and multicultural affairs John Gibson. In this role, he has worked with more than 50 partners to promote initiatives that enhance diversity behind and in front of the camera.
“I think of this role as the great connector,” Gibson says. “When there are oftentimes many of our partners that should be connected with one of our studios and a previous relationship didn’t exist, we’ll make that connection.”
Gibson says his program runs parallel to the ongoing developments in the cultural landscape. “We didn’t launch this [program] in response to anything. It was three years before #OscarsSoWhite, five years before #MeToo and #Time’s Up,” Gibson adds.
“If you look at all the corporations that made statements about Black Lives Matter, only 20-30% have actually followed through on those commitments. That’s reactionary; you have to do the transformative work. It takes time, but you have to have a true commitment to it.”
For Gibson, authenticity boils down to listening to people’s stories and providing them the opportunity to tell their truth.
“I understand not seeing your community properly reflected,” Gibson says. “When telling authentic stories, everything isn’t going to be pretty, but you balance it. So for every story and show about Chicago’s South Side, you will have the ‘Hidden Figures’ that gives a holistic view of communities.”
MPA chairman-CEO Charles Rivkin adds, “This has always been important to me. When I was at the Jim Henson Co., the Muppets are all colors, creeds, shapes and sizes; they all get along. Jim Henson believed strongly in the power of community.
“Diversity in hiring is not just the right thing to do, it’s a smart thing to do,” Rivkin continues. “I hired the best executive team this organization has ever had and they also happened to be diverse. We are stronger as a result. This industry was created out of whole cloth and it’s changed the world. And the Motion Picture Assn. has steadfastly represented the creators who define this industry and the talent that makes this industry so strong.”