In an industry in which diverse characters have faced sidelining at best and erasure at worst, the current moment of industry interruption has created an opportunity for further discourse. As Karen Horne, Senior Vice President of Enterprise Inclusion for Warner Media and longtime advocate for underrepresented stories, notes: “Diversity is not a risk, and we sometimes have to push ourselves to places where we might not be comfortable being, but the result will always be better. “
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Horne and Teresa Huang, Story Editor of CBS’s MACGYVER, to discuss the rapidly shifting landscape of diversity, inclusion, and access in Hollywood. Here are five inspirational takeaways from last week’s panel.
Missed WeScreenplay’s ACTIONS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE: ‘Specificity in Character Description & Intentional Inclusivity’ chat with Karen and Teresa? Check out the full panel discussion here:
- The Industry Is Undeniably Changing
There was a time when commercial viability and diversity were seen as mutually exclusive, and that myth has caused screenwriters to leave intentional inclusivity on the back burner. Horne and Huang note that there’s been a sweeping shift, with underrepresented stories taking a major step toward parity.
“We’ve seen a real movement in the last ten years… and that advice [to write without calling for diversity] is now obsolete, beautifully. We’re moving in the right direction… the world is changing.”
- Conversations Around Inclusion Are Evolving
As the industry pauses and re-envisions itself in response to the global pandemic, Huang points out that it’s time for the broader film and television landscape to catch up with creators of color: “I don’t have the option, as a woman of color, to not be a part of race conversations in my world.”
Horne, likewise, notes that a broader race-related reckoning is encouraging real change:
“People are now waking up, and realizing that there are generations of systemic racism in this industry. And it’s showing us that you can do things differently than you normally did… Anyone who doesn’t talk about the specificity of race is just living in a world that doesn’t really exist.”
- Specificity and Inclusion Are Becoming the Norm
Both in front of and behind the camera, Huang and Horne cite an end to the era of vague, tokenistic, “any ethnicity” characters––and emphasize the need for stories that highlight diversity.
Horne reinforces this from an executive standpoint:
“What I always want to know from a writer is: Why is this your story? What about this story makes you the only person who can write it? When you say ‘all ethnicity’… if you write a character whom you’ve not defined, then you’ve just relegated that character to serving other characters…It’s a disservice to your script, it’s a disservice to whatever show you’re writing on, and it’s also a disservice to many talented diverse actors who could be filling those roles.”
- Integrate Allyship into Your Script
Essential in this time of change, regardless of writers’ backgrounds, is the opportunity to embrace and make space in their work for diverse casts. Huang throws this occasion into sharp relief, encouraging screenwriters to break away from the adage “write what you know” and to rather “write what you’ve experienced emotionally,” ultimately exploring authentic stories:
“It’s how we, in a way, train audiences to appreciate differences… by showing a variety of multicultural experiences, histories, backstories… all centered around universal themes.”
- Prepare to Seize Opportunity
Even at this moment of cultural and industry upheaval, both Huang and Horne reiterate that there’s still work to be done. Horne encourages writers to use this time to produce work, as producers are still searching for new stories, and challenges creators to keep working on their craft:
“Diversity is no substitute for talent… I’m doing my best to make sure that this is a movement, and not a moment… No matter how many open slots for writers there are, there are going to be a gazillion writers vying for that slot…Your portfolio should be slammin’ right now… because there’s an abundance of talent, but not an abundance of opportunity. So we’re trying to create more opportunities.”
Huang adds that, as inclusivity and equity are prioritized by gatekeepers within the industry pipeline, writers can take the opportunity to cultivate and expand their craft:
“Focus on your talent, focus on your skills… that [idea that] ‘I’ll never get a job because Hollywood is all white men’… that’s changing.”
With an unprecedented focus on representation in the television and film industry, WeScreenplay has created a panel to hold space for noteworthy advocates who have been leading the charge toward further diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Stay tuned for future events from ACTIONS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE, an ongoing series where accomplished guests speak from their experience, examining the systems of underrepresentation and exploring ways to amplify diverse voices in screenwriting.
Joshua Noble is a Puerto Rican writer, actor, and producer based in Los Angeles, California. In addition to his career in TV and film, he is a founding producer of The American Playbook, a series of conversations and new works highlighting historically underrepresented voices, and currently serves as Director of the National Actors’ Retreat. Joshua received his MFA from the Yale School of Drama.