Driving Diversity in the Hollywood System: ‘This Isn’t a Game We Win by Playing Their Rules’ (Video)

TheGrill 2021: “We’re playing a different game, and we have the opportunity to expand the ecosystem and change the culture of the industry itself,” contends Marginal MediaWorks’ Sanjay Sharma

Hollywood has long paraded the importance of improving diversity, inclusion and representation, but its structures built on exclusion largely remain in place.

It was a topic the “Amplifying Diverse Voices in Hollywood” panel — including Carmen Carerra, Deon Taylor, E. Brian Dobbins, Manjari Makijany, Marja-Lewis Ryan, Samata Narra and Sanjay Sharma and moderated by CEO of Black Monarch Entertainment Olivia Charmaine Morris — explored. The group discussed the importance of centering more diverse voices in the entertainment industry, what progress has been made and moreover, what’s left to be done.

The panel, which was part of TheWrap’s TheGrill 2021, kicked off with the topic of #EmmysSoWhite, the Twitter hashtag that trended last week after no actors of color won in any of the acting categories despite this year’s record number of diverse nominees.

For Taylor, co-founder and co-CEO of the independent film company Hidden Empire Film Group, the results — including having to watch the cast of “black-ish” get “skipped over again” — were disappointing.

“When you really think about a hundred plus awards given and then you see on that night, four were given to us, it was sad,” Taylor said. “It really was.”

Dobbins, the executive producer of the sitcom “black-ish,” which, despite its singular win, had a total of 25 Emmy nominations (including four for Outstanding Comedy Series; Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, the show’s leads, have seven and five acting nominations, respectively), reminded himself that the award show isn’t “set up” for people of color.

“I’m always reminded that when you get invited to someone else’s birthday party, they get to make the rules,” Dobbins said of that night. “I think I put too much emphasis on somebody else’s party.”

Similarly, for Sharma, founder and CEO of Marginal MediaWorks Inc., a media company focused on storytelling from marginalized voices, navigating diversity and inclusion in the industry is about “making progress inside the structure” as well as on his own terms.

“This isn’t a game we win by playing [the system’s] rules,” Sharma said. “We’re playing a different game, and we have the opportunity to expand the ecosystem and change the culture of the industry itself.”

Narra, Senior Vice-President of Enterprise Inclusion Content Strategy at Warner Media, believes that despite Hollywood’s age-old structures, talent has been, and continues to be the “defining factor” in studios and that the importance of multi-hyphenates is finally being recognized, as they’re given the opportunity to explore multiple genres and areas in the industry.

For Ryan, the showrunner, executive producer and director of Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q,” that means using her “seat of power” to “open the door” to the next generation of queer people of color and make way for their stories and voices to be heard.

Carmen Carerra, an actress and trans rights activist, said that people of minority communities, specifically the trans community, have “the power to change the world,” through their storytelling, which in turn, creates space for more and more possibility for others. However, in order to do so, television and film need to “reflect” what the lives of trans people are really like, which, according to Carerra, isn’t happening.

And as much as the shift in Hollywood’s landscape is based around creating more access and centering marginalized voices, accountability of those in industry leadership roles plays just as big of a part.

“The more we’re on the same page and united about [accountability] as otherized people, as outsiders, as marginalized voices, the less the industry can really do anything about it, so we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Sharma said. “What I’m excited about is that we can do it together now.”

Watch an excerpt from the panel above and the full conversation here.

For over a decade, TheWrap’s Grill event series has led the conversation on the convergence between entertainment, media and technology, bringing together newsmakers to debate the challenges and opportunities facing content in the digital age. Tailored to C-Suite and high-level attendees, TheGrill presented by WrapPRO, delivers a unique series of curated discussions, industry panels and virtual networking activations that explore the ever-changing media landscape. View the full panel and all Grill content here: www.thewrap.com/the-grill-2021-welcome/.