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“Vida” writer, Tanya Saracho, was once cruelly informed by a network receptionist that she was selected for a show as “the diversity hire” — so recalled mitú president and co-founder Beatriz Acevedo at the Power Women Summit in downtown Los Angeles on Friday.
Saracho immediately approached her agent and moved onto another project within days, Acevedo said.
“I didn’t know that term existed until I talked to Tanya,” Acevedo said of “diversity hire,” a label that evokes imagery of the forced eating of vegetables, rather than something that has the potential to flourish. “The fact that there’s this quota, I know it comes from a good place in people’s hearts… but it’s not charity.”
Acevedo emphasized that diversity is “good business,” which has been reinforced at the box office and in TV Ratings time and again. The “Fast & Furious” franchise is just one example of a thriving franchise based on diverse characters. “Pose” on FX and “Empire” on Fox is another.
But Acevedo and panelists Lionsgate executive vice president Jen Hollingsworth and writer for TV series “Vida” Jenniffer Gómez were also concerned with diversity behind the camera.
Acevedo said women creatives and creatives of color tend to be invisible to Hollywood. “We alway hear about how there’s a problem in Hollywood to find us,” she said. “It’s a big problem, it’s a deep problem, but there’s some hope.”
Women and people of color gaining a seat at the decision-making table in Hollywood was one of the solutions the panelists defined. Gómez said that “Vida” is a show that has an all Latinx writing team and cast. The show also features writers and actors within the LGBTQ community.
Hollingsworth said more women-driven and representative narratives gained more popularity and made the most money within the past year. She said the Queen Latifah-led “Girls Trip” reached beyond the targeted female audience. The 2017 film, Hollingsworth said, was a well-told story that both men and women were able to laugh at.
“At Lionsgate specifically, that [female] audience is a focus for us… it’s a focus on telling female stories,” Hollingsworth said.
Another major topic at the panel was the need for mentorship to continue promoting diverse voices in Hollywood storytelling for generations to come. Hollingsworth said it was difficult for her to find a mentor that she could holistically look up to because men dominated the entertainment industry in the past.
“I think my strengths are in being a woman,” Hollingsworth said.
Additionally, Gómez said that she believes mentors have play a big part in making sure that people of color and women continue to have a seat at the table. Even if an up-and-coming woman creative of color doesn’t have the same level of professional experience as a white man — because she hasn’t been given the opportunity as easily — it’s about mentors allowing their mentees to prove themselves.
“You just need to take the risk,” Gómez said.