By Lorraine Wheat
The event was held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on Sept. 26. Titled Producing Diversity: A Conversation Presented by MISC and the PGA, it brought four prominent producers to SCA to discuss the impact of diversity on Hollywood: Janet Yang, who moderated, was joined by Stephanie Allain, Teddy Zee, Terence Paul Winter.
Stephanie Allain (Dear White People, Hustle & Flow) told a story about her childhood. While growing up in a black, single mother household, she saw Julia, the groundbreaking show starring Diahann Carroll that told the story of a single mother nurse. It was the first time she had seen her own life reflected on the screen. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, we're important. We count,’” Allain said. “I recognized that, and that was very, very empowering.”
Janet Yang (The Joy Luck Club, The People vs Larry Flynt) steered the discussion through analysis of a variety of topics including how technology, sales data, and passionate filmmakers are all facets that can come together to create change in Hollywood.
“I think the world we live in has changed enormously, but the world we work in has not changed that much,” said Teddy Zee (The Pursuit of Happiness, Hitch), who talked about the influence of screening services Netflix and Hulu on the distribution landscape. “Content creation has been democratized.”
Content creators no longer have to push past gatekeepers to have their stories reach an audience, he explained, adding that they can now use social media platforms. “We can all have a voice. That's what's changed,” Zee said. “Hollywood, I'm afraid hasn't changed.”
“We're more willing to make noise and declare who we are,” said Terence Paul Winter, producer of television shows like Lethal Weapon, Training Day and Castle. The result, he said, is like-minded individuals can find stories they identify with, and communities then develop around those stories.
Zee and Allain believe the rise of of social media is not enough. It is not even enough to have diversity on screen, they said. Allain stressed the need for diversity among the industry executives, saying the number of executives of color has not changed much over the last 30 years.
Allain, who also produced Boyz n the Hood, said when the project landed on her desk she had the passion and the understanding to pitch the story to her team so that the project could be developed. “That's how those projects get through because there's somebody at the table,” she said. “The tables need to look like America too.”
Allain, Zee and Winter gave impassioned, honest answers to Yang’s questions, endearing themselves to the audience of PGA members and USC students, faculty and staff.
Their overarching advice was that making films and television requires so many resources that you have to find projects you are truly passionate about. “You just can't just be smart,” said Zee. “You have to make it your life's work.”
With Hollywood being slow to embrace change, Allain said filmmakers have to be truly authentic storytellers and explore being loud.
She also advised filmmakers to find other filmmakers that are making successful projects that are similar to the ones they are trying to create and connect with those filmmakers.
“Plant the seed, get deep roots,” Janet Yang added. “It is a weird process between magnetism and the material. You have to be so dedicated. You have to love it so much.”