Variety highlights advocates for inclusivity who’ve made an impact in the entertainment industry over the past year.
Ava DuVernay, Tilane Jones
Array and Array Releasing
Array’s TV projects embrace a broad range of inclusive storytelling, including “Colin in Black and White,” “Home Sweet Home” and “Queen Sugar.” In 2021, the company was awarded Peabody’s Institutional Award for its decade of commitment to developing an inclusive, diverse range of stories.
Jones says the honor “acknowledges that all of our hard work and commitment over the past decade of being narrative change agents by uplifting storytellers that are too often not centered is making a difference in our industry.”
Array Crew, the below-the-line hiring database, just celebrated its first anniversary and will now expand beyond the U.S. into Canada. Crew now features thousands of qualified and experienced members of the craft and crew communities and has a special focus on uplifting women, people of color and underrepresented talent and connecting them with executives, producers and department heads looking to hire staff. Through Array Releasing, led by Jones, the company acquires and distributes independent films from women directors and artists of color from all over the world.
Banijay Americas & TV Academy Foundation
Abrego leads a stable of Emmy Award-winning unscripted and scripted production studios, including Bunim/Murray Prods., Endemol Shine North America, Authentic Entertainment, Truly Original, 51 Minds Entertainment and Stephen David Entertainment. He also oversees Banijay’s Spanish and Portuguese-language original programming initiatives in Latin America, including two Mexico City-based studios, and another in São Paulo, Brazil. Banijay also produces many top hits for the U.S. Hispanic audience on Telemundo and Univision. “I didn’t grow up with the same experiences that many of my contemporaries did, so as a result, diversity and inclusion has been a part of my DNA since the beginning,” he says.
Ahmed made history in 2021 as the first Muslim nominated for lead actor Oscar for his role in “Sound of Metal.” The rarity of such an achievement for the Muslim community in Hollywood is something he is working to change. In the past year, his production company, Left Handed Films, earned Oscar noms for “Flee” and a win for “The Long Goodbye.” The actor teamed with Pillars Fund and the Ford Foundation to launch Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion. The initiative’s goal is to fund and mentor Muslim storytellers in the early stages of their careers by offering $25,000 fellowships. Ahmed also supported a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative titled “Missing & Maligned: The Reality of Muslims in Popular Global Movies” to highlight the marginalization of Muslims in Hollywood. “The way I see it, expanding the scope of our storytelling inches us closer to the realization that there is no us and them, there is just us,” he says. “I can’t think of a more worthwhile goal at this moment, in such divided and precarious times. It doesn’t just benefit Muslims, it benefits us all to come to that realization.”
Group Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Bahal led vast change in diversity and representation at BBC Content and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 before joining Fremantle in her current role, where she is focused on creating greater inclusion by scaling up the way positions are filled. She’s optimistic about gaining greater representation for unheard voices throughout the creative sector by making a conscious, sustained effort to bring them into various roles. “We are focusing our energy and efforts beyond entry level roles and aiming for scale,” Bahal says. “The Fremantle-backed Breakthrough Leaders program is a career advancement program, in partnership with the TV Collective, elevating 101 mid- and senior-level talent rather than a select few.”
Janine Sherman Barrois
Executive Producer, Showrunner, Writer
“The Big Cigar,” “Claws,” “The Kings of Napa”
Folding Chair Prods.
In her latest deal with Warner Bros. Television Group, Barrois launched Folding Chair Prods., inspired by Shirley Chisholm’s famous quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” She most recently served as executive producer for TNT’s “Claws,” OWN’s “The Kings of Napa” and Apple TV+’s upcoming “The Big Cigar” — all series led by people of color. With Folding Chair Prods., she wants to champion other women and underrepresented creators as others helped her. “When I look back on my legacy in 20 years, I hope I have a whole army of people I have helped.”
Head of Talent
Bartlett has already racked up an impressive milestone-heavy resume, becoming ICM’s first Black department head and the first Black board member of a major agency, but over the past year she’s shone even brighter, leading a team that created the first historically Black college or university (HBCU) agency internship program. ICM’s program launched in summer 2021, with those interns now finding places within the agency. Additionally, she originated an affinity group called Diversify ICM, which has sponsored seminars and training. “We have to do more work everywhere,” she says. “That said, the creation of a pipeline is strategic and important, but the maintenance of that pipeline is imperative.”
Creator, Executive Producer, Writer, Actress
After getting her start as an internet comedian for Buzzfeed, and a cast member on the first season of “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Brunson shot to fame this year with “Abbott Elementary.” Created by and starring Brunson, the ABC series became the first early word-of-mouth television hit of the year, developing a devoted fan base passionate about the adventures of the staff at the titular public school. The show succeeds thanks to its specificity as a portrayal of the Philadelphia public school system, with a majority Black cast and all Black extras. Brunson says it resonates because it captures the difficulties of being a teacher and a low-income worker in America today. “Everyone has had a teacher or is a teacher,” Brunson says. “But also, I think it resonates with the more common work experience in America, which is working hard and being undervalued.”
Exec VP, Def Jam Recordings
President, 4th & Broadway
As chair of the programming and curation committee of Universal Music Group’s task force for meaningful change, Burnette has led forums, counseling and educational programming around tolerance, equality and inclusion, with a focus on Black music and artists. At Def Jam Recordings, she proudly sits among an executive team and wider staff strong with women, who recently celebrated Women’s History Month with a gala event, social campaign and collectors’ edition vinyl box set, “The Women of Def Jam.” At both Def Jam and 4th and Broadway, Burnette has also spoken at forums and panels and mentored young artists and executives hoping to progress in the music business.
Nkechi Okoro Carroll
Executive Producer, Showrunner, Writer
“All American,” “All American Homecoming”
After writing and producing “All American,” Carroll created the “All American” spinoff to shine a light on students and employees of historical Black college and universities. “My mission is to create content that leaves the world a bit of a better place than how I found it,” Carroll, who previously worked on “Bones,” “Rosewood” and “The Resident,” says. “Telling authentic diverse stories that change the narrative on our communities is just one way I try to accomplish that.”
Cian O’Clery, Karina Holden
Creators, Executive Producers
“Love on the Spectrum U.S.”
O’Clery was tempted to go bigger when he and Holden teamed with Netflix for a U.S. version of their Australian dating docuseries “Love on the Spectrum.” But rather than bowing to the heightened tropes of American dating shows, they continued to let the voices of those living and dating with autism break the genre mold. “When dating shows are just hot people, super confident with no problem meeting people, I think audiences see that and think it is what you need to be to deserve love,” O’Clery says. “The television dating space was lacking in inclusivity and diversity.” The vérité-style series hands its neurodiverse subjects the power to share their singular experiences from dating on the spectrum. “It is about giving people with disabilities the opportunity to tell their own stories and have that dignity to choose to participate in mainstream media and … to not be made the other,” Holden says.
For the Egyptian-born Diab, conveying the reality of his home was of utmost importance in “Moon Knight.” The show lives and breathes by Diab’s vision of an authentic Egypt, upending stereotypes that all Egyptians are desert-dwellers without electricity or civilization. “To be made by Egyptians and have something at the Marvel caliber was very big,” Diab says. “The best thing I get after making this show is that other people tell me, ‘You know what, I believe I can do anything right now.’” To Diab, it’s his duty as a creative to use his unique voice. “Our voice is our strength,” he says.
Dr. Menna Demessie, Liliahn Majeed
SVP and Executive Director, Task Force for Meaningful Change
SVP, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
Universal Music Group
Demessie helped launch a task force to expand efforts towards equality, justice and inclusion and during the past year, it has supported 150-plus organizations, helped get voters to polls and educated employees about social justice and racial equality. She says change requires “unapologetic conversations about taboo topics” and ensuring underrepresented voices don’t just get a seat at the table but “help set the menu.” “It’s not only that a group of voices must be heard, but they must be empowered to make the improvements needed.” Majeed agrees, noting that focusing on diversity when hiring without creating structures that amplify their voices is a common mistake. She helped start UMG’s HBCU internship program, as well as Ascend, which aims to speed up corporate advancement for Black employees. “One improvement would be providing equal access to decision-makers and stretch assignments,” she says. “People from untapped communities often lack sponsorship and these opportunities [lead them] to the C-suite.”
SVP, Global Human Resources
Sony Music Publishing
Felix-Hughey strongly believes inclusivity is “an all-hands on deck approach” that cannot rely on human resources or a diversity team alone. “Every leader and manager can have an impact on shifting culture and creating an inclusive and safe environment. It goes beyond training – it involves advocacy, allyship and micro-sponsorship in its truest form.” In 2020, Felix-Hughey launched SMP’s Women’s Leadership Program, designed to equip leaders for success in today’s climate — and a second cohort will participate in the program in September. Under her guidance, Sony Music Publishing has recently seen an increase in female and multicultural representation at the senior leadership level. Felix-Hughey has also been involved with SMP creating a pipeline of diverse, entry-level talent through key partnerships with grassroots organizations like Scholarship Plus, HBCU-LA, American Indigenous Business Leaders and Out 4 Undergrad, as well as launching its Screen Scoring Diversity Scholarship at USC.
Vice President, Current Series and Diversity
Disney Television Animation
Since its inception in 2019, the Disney TVA Writing Program has placed more than 30 writers from diverse backgrounds on every show produced by the studio. Francis scours colleges and organizations for talent from outside the typical Disney Animation pipeline to offer in-the-field experience while also contributing diverse perspectives to the studio’s recent programming slate, including “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder,” “Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” “Amphibia” and “The Owl House.” “If we as a company and studio are going to raise the flag and say we are the authentic storytellers, we need to have authentic points of view,” he says.
Young the Giant
Breaking into alternative music as an American-born Indian wasn’t easy, but for Gadhia, doing so only highlighted further hurdles. “There’s so few of us and we’ve been so tokenized in film and music that ruthless competition’s been fostered rather than community,” says Gadhia. “When you can’t find someone who shares the same trials and successes, it’s lonely.” One way Gadhia is cultivating community is by highlighting alternative BIPOC artists on Sirius XM’s “Point of Origin.” He worries diversity is often promoted to “assuage guilt.” “It’s sexy to promote diversity, but when the executive ladder isn’t changing and the same people who branded us ‘challenging’ now see dollar signs, most attempts seem hollow. We’re left wondering if it’s the fetishization of our culture, not the quality of our art, paving the way.”
Ruben Garcia, Kevin Lin
Co-Heads, Cultural Business Strategy
Diversifying Hollywood can be as showy as casting the right names in a project or as nitty-gritty as Garcia and Lin’s specialty: quantifying how diverse projects increase the bottom line (Garcia’s AIR Research Study with UCLA revealed big-budget movies can increase box office with authentic representation) and sharing the brain trust of influential artists and executives of color at Amplify conferences and town halls. “There’s so much focus on checking boxes that we sometimes lose sight of the truth, authenticity and humanity in the stories that we tell,” they write in an email. “Stories that are specific to individual experiences can still have universal appeal.”
Executive Head of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Amazon Studios, Prime Video, and IMDb
Gillespie created a mission statement of actionable commitments for Amazon with the Inclusion Policy and Playbook. The document details how the company can disrupt biases that occur during the process of creating a series or movie. Gillespie also manages the Voices event series, which holds panels focused on addressing the inequities for groups such as the AAPI, LGBTQ+, Latino, Black, Indigenous and neurodivergent communities throughout Hollywood. “Some of the things we’re learning as a result of this Inclusion Policy and Playbook is the number of people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ folks who are working on production sets who now feel they have visibility, which is so encouraging,” says Gillespie.
President and Chief Strategy Officer
Live Nation Women
Harnell has worked toward female equality and advancement by launching peer development program Live Nation Women Circles and spearheading career development initiative Live Nation Next Gen to assist youth entering the industry, particularly from the BIPOC community. She’s helping Diversify the Stage, an inclusion initiative she helped develop, to create an inclusion rider recommending guidelines to drive DEI in live music. Harnell urges companies to publicly announce their targets to be held accountable. “The best ways to ensure inclusivity is to be intentional — insist on interviewing a diverse slate of candidates and hire from it. Invest in internship/mentorship/apprenticeship programs that nurture diverse talent. Create environments where individuals feel safe showing up as their true selves.”
Crystal Echo Hawk
Using her Native American racial and social justice organization IllumiNative, Echo Hawk finds creative ways to buoy investment and support in authentic Native representation in film, TV and other media. This includes a mentorship program with Netflix Animation Studios and the Indigenous List, a yearly honor in conjunction with the Black List and Sundance that provides finalists with access to Indigenous creatives who have deals at major studios. “We’re finally seeing a shift in the paradigm,” she says. “There is so much amazing content ready to be made; Hollywood just needs to get out of the way.”
Co-founder, Lodge Freeway Media
Host, The Unbothered Network
Hill, an award-winning journalist and commentator, recently launched the Unbothered Network, a premium podcast and production company, with an eye on elevating the voices of Black women and their stories. Hill is co-founder of Lodge Freeway Media and a contributing writer for the Atlantic. She has also been host of “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered” on Spotify since 2019. “I hope that the Unbothered Network becomes the go-to spot for Black women who want to feel like they’re being heard, respected and understood,” says Hill. “Black women have so many beautiful layers to us and I hope through this network, we can explore as many of those layers as possible. In short, I just want to produce, create and cultivate cool shit for Black women.”
Founder and Executive Director
Jew in the City
Since launching the first official Hollywood bureau for Jewish representation in March, Josephs has been making her organization known to producers, writers, studios and more as an invaluable resource. As she solidifies an official academic study and prepares to roll out a three-part documentary that examines everything from Orthodox Jewish portrayals to the erasure of Jews of color, Josephs says, “there’s a lot of education that has to be done before you can even move forward” with change in Hollywood. In the meantime, she hopes to build support among non-Jews. “We certainly can’t do this work without people outside of the Jewish community also taking note of its importance.”
Writer, producer, showrunner
Hugh spearheaded one of the most critically acclaimed new shows of the year with the Apple TV+ epic “Pachinko.” Based on the book by Min Jin Lee, the series tells the intergenerational story of a Korean family that immigrates to Japan, and in the process explores the complex history of Koreans in the country at large. For many Americans, the show will be their first exposure to the topic of Korean Japanese citizens, and Hugh felt a heavy sense of responsibility to do justice to their stories. “This is a history that’s still being debated and questioned to this day,” Hugh says. “We felt we had to be mostly unimpeachable in terms of accuracy and intent. But beyond this, I felt a responsibility to my own family history. It was important to remember throughout that although the show is fictional, the experiences of the Zainichi community is not — these people lived, they mattered.”
Over the past year and through her extremely busy and forward-thinking company, Kaling has continued to embrace the industry’s shifting landscape. Kaling has started development on an adaptation of Uzma Jalaluddin’s novel “Hana Khan Carries On,” which centers on a young Canadian Muslim woman and her journey through life, while continuing to highlight complex South Asian characters on the second season of her hit Netflix series, “Never Have I Ever.” Her new HBO series, “The Sex Lives of College Girls,” focuses on a group of ethnically and sexually diverse women from different socioeconomic backgrounds and was recently renewed for a second season.
Christina M. Kim, Robert Berens
Executive producers, showrunners
As creators of a reboot of the classic “Kung Fu,” Kim and Berens put together a predominantly Asian American show with a young female lead. For Kim, making the lead young, female and Asian American addressed something from her childhood, when she didn’t really see anyone on television or in pop culture who looked like her. She and Berens also wanted to bring the lessons of Shaolin Buddhism into contemporary life. “Creating a character who is Chinese American and went to China, learned about the skills of Kung Fu and then came back to America to use those skills to help her community was the high-bar goal we set out to do,” says Kim.
Senior VP, International Originals
As HBO Max positioned itself as a dominant streamer, Kim worked with a team of women and people of color to add acclaimed international titles that speak to a variety of often-unrecognized experiences. Among the latest additions are Bilal Baig’s “Sort of,” Rose Matafeo’s “Starstruck” and Russell T. Davies’ “It’s a Sin.” “International programming celebrates voices and cultures from around the world, tapping into a more global view of storytelling,” Kim says. “Ultimately, a good story is a good story. We strive to find stories you haven’t seen before, and characters you haven’t seen represented in this way before.”
Walt Disney Television
Klein oversees casting for ABC, Hulu, Freeform, Disney Television Studios and Onyx, with inclusion serving as the common denominator in all programming in which she’s associated. A fighter for representation for underrepresented groups for the entirety of her 30-year-plus career, some of her recent projects include “Abbott Elementary,” “American Born Chinese,” “The Chi,” “This Is Us” and “Love, Victor.” “Inclusion and representation are at the forefront of every casting conversation, as it always should be. We need to be intentionally inclusive in every aspect of our business and without exception, and not just when it’s a part of the news cycle,” she says.
Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin
The stars of this year’s best picture winner want to get “hearing impaired” out of the lexicon. “Are [Deaf or disabled people] impaired or is it society who impairs them?” Matlin asks. “As I’ve always said, the real barrier of being deaf is not in the ears, it’s in the minds of those who create the barriers.” “CODA” and its success mark a massive step in Hollywood’s representation of Deaf and disabled voices, giving dignity to a story not centered just on the disability itself. “In the past, I felt like I was a stranger,” Kotsur says. “I was nobody. Until I managed to build my network and was cast in ‘CODA.’ And these awards really increase awareness of an actor who exists, who happens to be deaf.” To Kotsur, there isn’t much difference between him and a hearing person. “We communicate in a different language. That’s it!”
Daniel "Dan" Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
The Daniels, the minds behind 2022’s beloved “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” see the film as “Get Out” for Asian Americans. Like Jordan Peele’s film, Kwan and Scheinert aimed to upend Hollywood’s belittling history and look forward to what true Asian American storytelling can be. “Dan didn’t think he could be a director growing up,” Scheinert says. “And I did.” Now, Kwan hopes the film can inspire AAPI viewers to believe their stories matter. “This film is about the multiverse, it’s about possibility,” Kwan says. “When you put that in the context of Asian American and AAPI identity, it is about the ways that our media has only barely scratched the surface. Hopefully, everyone in the industry can take a little bit of that and just feel empowered to really blow the doors down and create completely new stories for their own personal communities.”
Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, and Sumi Parekh
Founders – Lively, Reynolds
Executive Director – Parekh
Group Effort Initiative
Group Effort Initiative and Netflix just announced a partnership to increase the access of historically underrepresented communities to entry level below-the-line career opportunities. GEI participants will receive on-set training and job placement on various Netflix productions in Canada and the U.S. in 2022. “Our goal is for GEI participants to not only launch their careers but build them, eventually into executive-level positions where they can ensure their voices will make a lasting impact on our industry,” say Lively and Reynolds. Adds Parekh: “To date, GEI has secured 102 PA placements on 74 productions across North America and continues to expand its reach to other studios and streamers.”
Head of Diversity & Inclusion
Mayberry has led diversification efforts at Endeavor Content by seeking underrepresented talent and employees and searching for potential candidates on places including LinkedIn, CrewVie and Staff Me Up. As she reaches out to potential candidates she looks to build relationships that make it possible to open the door for future opportunities. “Endeavor is an anti-racist and feminist studio so reaching out about community and having that lens and having really strong core values of integrity and respect are the things that I look for when I’m looking for qualities in potential candidates,” she says
With a mission statement that focuses on acquiring, developing and producing features from underrepresented voices, the relaunched MGM division has come out charging despite the pandemic. Films in 2022 include “On the Count of Three” (from Jerrod Carmichael); “Anything’s Possible” (from Billy Porter); and “Till” (from Chinonye Chuku). With Mayo at the lead, MGM/Orion co-sponsored the third GLAAD List. “There have been great strides in hiring, both in terms of expanding who is in the proverbial ‘room’ and seeing the adoption of different hiring policies that promote inclusion,” says Mayo. “It’s a night and day difference from when I first arrived to L.A. over 15 years ago.”
Jeanne Mau, Craig Robinson
Senior Vice President, TV Programming Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer
Mau recently created NBCU Launch, an umbrella brand that houses the television group’s DEI efforts, while launching a refreshed slate of development programs for writers, directors and below-the-line talent. “Conversations around diversity and inclusion are happening earlier in every part of our business, from the stories we want to tell, to whom we want to cast, to the vendors, and how we market our shows,” Mau says. “These were usually the last things on the list to discuss, and now it’s not an afterthought.” Earlier this year, Robinson announced that the annual campaigns NBCU’s teams create to celebrate heritage months would live year round, helping to continue the celebrations of underrepresented groups. “Accountability is at an all-time high, and we know that accountability and measurement drive results. I believe there’s more acknowledgment than ever that authentic representation drives ratings, viewership, box office and revenue,” says Robinson.
Senior VP, Creative Talent Development & Inclusion
Disney ABC Television Group
McNeal oversees professional development and talent programs including the DGE Content Writing Program, DGE Content Directing Program, DGE Content PA program and National Latino Media Council/National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Latino Television Writers Programs. He serves as the primary liaison between DGE and diversity-related coalitions, nonprofit arts institutions and entertainment industry guilds, and is the chief strategist of the company’s diversity agenda across DGE business units. McNeal is optimistic with the direction that the industry is moving in. “Companies have become proactive in attracting and retaining diverse talent, while programs and initiatives have been established to mentor and promote that talent.”
Vice President of Inclusion Strategy
Myers has built a culture at Netflix around a concept called the Inclusion Lens, which examines every issue and decision with inclusion in mind, and assists the company in better increasing inclusion on-screen and within the organization. “One goal for me is to stay open to the possibilities in people and in the system. It’s hard to create cultural change if you don’t have faith that people and things can change. There’s always something to celebrate, like when we add features that makes our service more accessible, or when a leader who didn’t believe there was bias saw their own and corrected a decision they were about to make.”
Ramsey Naito, Marva Smalls
Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Animation
EVP, Global Head of Inclusion; EVP, Public Affairs, Kids & Family Entertainment Brands
In addition to regularly creating content that empowers LGBTQ+ youth, under Smalls’ leadership, Nickelodeon has also become an educator and advocate for parents, students and families. Through a partnership with GLSEN, they’ve created groundbreaking tools to help parents and educators combat LGBTQ discrimination in schools. “Our industry has become more purposeful about weaving diversity, equity and inclusion into the fabric of our organizations and focusing on values of transparency, accountability and advocacy,” Smalls says. Naito has been building an inclusive culture at Paramount and Nickelodeon’s animation studios by developing underrepresented talent across dozens of animations productions. “These past two years have been a time for all of us to grow, to evolve and transform, and to think more deeply as content creators about the responsibilities we should have to one another and to our audiences through the choices we make in our jobs and throughout our lives,” Naito says.
Hollywood Bureau Director
Muslim Public Affairs Council – Hollywood Bureau
Obeidi says, “Our mission is to change the narrative, so people can see Muslims as vital contributors to America and the world. We’ve been vilified so much that there needs to be retraining of who we are.” Among its 2021 triumphs: a TV screenwriting lab for Black Muslim writers, done with the Blackhouse Foundation and sponsored by Participant Media. (It led to jobs for several of the writers.) In 2020, Obeidi and Dr. Evelyn Alsultany created the Obeidi-Alsultany Test, with five key criteria to help writers gauge whether they are telling authentic Muslim stories.
The Women of Onyx Collective: Tara Duncan, Jacqueline Glover and Jihan Robinson
Head of Documentary Programming
VP, Documentary Programming
The women heading up Disney’s curated content brand at Hulu, Onyx Collective, have expertly used Disney’s brand to cultivate premium, culturally specific stories that are now grabbing the spotlight: Onyx’s first acquired title, “Summer of Soul ( … Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” earned a docu Oscar earlier this year. “As an industry, we can do a better job leaning into risk and taking a more long-term view of success,” Duncan says. Robinson says true success is “an environment in which we aren’t discussing diversity and inclusion, where representation is the norm and varied perspectives and points of view all have a seat at the table.” To that end, Onyx has a long list of upcoming titles with A-list names, including scripted series (Kerry Washington and Larry Wilmore’s “Reasonable Doubt”), unscripted series (Oprah Winfrey and Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “The 1619 Project”) and films (doc “Aftershock”). “The stories we tell reflect the world we live in,” says Glover. “That means being intentional about including everyone.”
Sierra Teller Ornelas
Showrunner, EP, writer and co-creator
During the pandemic, Ornelas found healing on Native Twitter watching as Native people saw themselves represented, maybe for the first time, on “Rutherford Falls.” Now in its second season, the Peacock series champions Native people’s comedic chops, showcasing what star Jana Schmieding termed “Native joy.” “For hundreds of years, mainstream audiences have been ready to feast on stories of Native trauma and badness, and we really enjoy depicting how joyous we are as a community,” Ornelas says, acknowledging she wants more. Within her overall Universal Television deal, she wants to depict more LGBTQ+ Native characters and body diversity. “I want everything you haven’t seen yet.”
When CBS canceled the Simone Missick-led courtroom drama “All Rise” in 2021, Perry called Winfrey about acquiring the series. “It was a very fast yes,” she recalls. Now airing its third season on OWN, the series is led by Black and Latino women, an opportunity for inclusivity and diversity that Perry says is a reflection of OWN’s audience. “As we think about our evolution at OWN and what we want to do in the future, ‘All Rise’ is a great first flag in the ground for starting to broaden our aperture and what we can do in front of and behind the camera.”
Focusing on the intersection of race and social justice in its projects, Porter’s Trilogy Films (part of Sony Pictures Television) has kept busy with nonfiction fare such as “The Me You Can’t See” with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry, the short “Bree Wayy: Promise, Witness, Remembrance” and features: she directed “Red Summer” about a mass grave in Tulsa, Okla. Behind the scenes, Trilogy invests heavily in diverse talent, including a majority people of color crew for HBO’s upcoming “Eyes on the Prize.” “The industry needs more focus on feeding the pipeline,” says Porter. “It’s not enough to scramble to place one person of color on a team.”
Issa Rae, Prentice Penny
Co-creator, writer, actor
This groundbreaking series follows the friendship of Issa and Molly, two modern Black women, as they navigate friendship, love and everyday experiences set against the backdrop of contemporary Los Angeles. Rae and Penny have crafted a game-changing series that authentically portrays real life and speaks to the culture and reality of Black life. The show unflinchingly examined Black female friendship, gentrification and Black masculinity while setting a high-water mark in the overall production values of the show. Rae and Penny have also created tremendous opportunities for new voices of color to be heard. “We wanted to tell stories that represented us in a way we hadn’t seen on camera,” Penny says. “In the same way Spike [Lee] and [Martin] Scorsese represent New York, we wanted to show a show that represented us and our culture here in Los Angeles.”
As Jules Vaughn, Schafer plays one of the most talked-about trans characters on television in HBO’s drama “Euphoria.” Although her character’s actions may stoke controversy among the viewers, particularly during this year’s recent second season, Schafer’s portrayal of the high schooler has attracted nothing but praise, as she brings authentic feeling to the romantic and artistic Jules. For Schafer, who started as a model and activist for trans rights before booking “Euphoria” as her first acting gig, having Jules accurately represent the lives of trans youth is always on the forefront of her mind. “When I think about my community and particularly trans youth, their perception of it matters to me,” Schafer says. “It feels really good to feel seen and know that they might feel seen by what we do with Jules.”
EVP, Development and Content Strategy
At ABC, Sethi was a driving force behind success stories “Abbott Elementary” and “The Wonder Years,” both led by predominantly Black casts. Backed by the network’s Diversity and Inclusion Standards, which Sethi also oversees, the series were a ringing endorsement for representation. “It means that betting on creators like [“Abbott Elementary’s”] Quinta Brunson and [“The Wonder Years’ ”] Saladin Patterson pays off,” Sethi says. “They are telling authentic stories with characters who reflect our world.” It has continued with ABC’s recent pickups “The Rookie: Feds,” “Alaska” and “Not Dead Yet,” all of which boast female leads and diverse voices.
Domee Shi, Lindsey Collins, Danielle Feinberg
Shi, Collins and Feinberg lead an all-female creative team that made a movie about a Chinese Canadian teen going through puberty, while also highlighting female friendship and the uniquely painful and hilarious world of middle school girls. Shi referenced her own struggles and triumphs as a middle-schooler in the script. “I think [female puberty] is uncomfortable because it’s just not a thing you see in the movies or in media,” Shi says. “The only way to normalize it is to shine a light on and just include it in more stories. At Pixar we strive to explore universal truths.”
Exceptional Minds is celebrating its 10th anniversary by deepening its programs, says exec director-CEO Siegel. EM trains individuals on the autism spectrum, both in digital-arts skills and in building a career. EM recently started a mentorship program with Netflix, and partnered with Mattel, DreamWorks and others for internships. It also held best-practices sessions with Sony, NBCUniversal and Lucasfilm, among others. “This year is our ninth graduating class, with 14 graduates, which is more than ever before. Almost half of the class is already placed,” he says. “Autism is a team sport. Companies need talent and we have it. We need open-minded, influential employers and it becomes a win-win: It’s good for business.”
David Steward II
Lion Forge Animation, Polarity
Open since 2019, Steward’s Lion Forge Animation, which resides within Steward II’s diversified global media holding company Polarity, is one of the few Black-owned animation studios anywhere, devoting 100% of its development and producing efforts to DEI projects. TV series and features are both part of Steward’s portfolio, including “Young Love” (a “Hair Love” spinoff) for HBO Max; animated series “Heiress” with Bron; “Rise Up, Sing Out,” exec produced by Questlove and Black Thought for Disney; and many more. Notes Steward, behind-the-scenes hires must be diverse, too. “They know these stories because they have lived them,” he says. “The result is more genuine content that adds to the fabric of society.”
Dr. Maurice A. Stinnett
Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Warner Music Group
A hub for innovation, action and expertise, WMG’s Global DEI Institute is one of several equity initiatives Stinnett has spearheaded. He also launched the educational series Movement DEI, and assists with talent recruitment. He says hiring marginalized people isn’t enough. “If we aren’t willing to be truly inclusive — from the benefits we offer to the buildings we design — we’re recruiting people only to fail them,” he notes. Stinnett sees inclusion as “knowing I can show up as my unedited self” and says the greatest challenge to diversity is diversity, explaining how needs differ from city to city and genre to genre. “It’s about determining where we can have the biggest impact.”
Creative Diversity Partner
Tatlow, who last year was listed in the Shaw Trust Power 100, plays a key role in ITV’s diversity acceleration plan, which delivers the company’s disability agenda throughout daytime programming, factual entertainment, sports programming and scripted content, while working with producers and creative partners to ensure that fully represented teams have been assembled. “It’s very encouraging to see conversations around diversity and inclusion starting at the senior levels and hitting all departments,” Tatlow notes, adding, “and although progress has been slower with disability inclusion, the last 12 months have seen a ramping up, particularly in the U.K., with people taking it more seriously.”
Global Lead, Sound Up
As she tackles DEI in podcasting with Sound Up, which aims to diversify audio storytelling globally, Tulloch says the biggest mistake companies make is employing members of underrepresented communities to tell specific stories. “We shouldn’t be forcing anyone into, ‘You are Black, therefore must tell a Black story,’” she says. “Diverse creators have the right to tell any story they’re passionate about. They’re qualified to tackle a multitude of genres, whether it’s musicals or rom-coms.” Tulloch is fighting against such issues with projects including Sound Up U.K., for female sports podcasters, and U.S. programs for Latino creators and BIPOC podcasters in the family/children genre. Her proudest achievement is Behind the Mic, a fellowship for Black creatives pursuing podcast production.
Chris Van Dusen
When Van Dusen thought of adapting
“Bridgerton,” he imagined a period piece with representation that would make every viewer feel seen and stories that would follow diverse characters and characters of color. He also wanted to turn the period genre on its head, so he took a risk when he pitched the show to execs. “I wanted to explore characters that haven’t always been seen in this genre,” he says. “It’s a show about love and romance. And what we’re really saying is that everyone, no matter who they are, is worthy of having those very things.”
Lindsay Wagner, Jean-Rene Zetrenne
Chief Diversity Officer
Partner & Chief People Officer
Appointed in January as UTA’s first chief diversity officer, former Ketchum senior VP Wagner is partnering with Zetrenne on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives across the company, including an HBCU summit to expose Black students to corporate entertainment careers; the mentoring program SYNC; promotions for over 50 employees (women and POC); and an onboarding initiative to help new hires of color navigate the company. “We continue to build on our progress across education, recruiting, retention and social impact, and we especially want to double down on the access, resources and experiences we provide for employees to thrive and succeed in our organization,” says Wagner.
Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Sonja Warfield and Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Director, Executive Producer
Writer, Executive Producer
Historical Consultant, Executive Producer
“The Gilded Age”
Hidden historical figures aren’t limited to America’s mid-20th Century space race — HBO’s “The Gilded Age” has found ample room among the corseted crowd for a well-off Black family in 19th century New York. “Everyone understood that there needed to be creative experts involved who were versed in Black life in the 19th century so it could be credible, believable — also while understanding that it’s a fictional show,” says Armstrong Dunbar. Aspiring writer Peggy Scott is an amalgam of real-life Black women, while her parents are professionals. “One thing HBO has done is that I am the voice in the room now,” says Richardson-Whitfield. “And there’s more than one of us there.” Meanwhile, in “Gilded Age’s” second season, more of Peggy’s story is bound to unfurl. “There are so many untapped stories of unique American experiences from people of color,” says Warfield. “I hope Hollywood keeps telling them. If audiences want it, they’ll keep making them.”
From Chet Hanks to Nicole Byer and Fran Lebowitz, Ziwe’s guests on her late night Showtime talk show may not seem to have much in common. But Ziwe sees them as her essential partners in “creating really insightful, thoughtful art with people and making people laugh.” In terms of how she’s able to work the zeitgeist in her favor and elevate the standard talk show format, Ziwe says it’s because she’s “not afraid to put things on television that cast myself in a way that is not perfect … the comedy comes from that raw honesty of being like, ‘Well, I’ve lost control, but what else is new?’”