TheGrill 2017: Hollywood Diversity Departments ‘Have No Power,’ Mitu Founder Beatriz Acevedo Says

“It’s like winning that card in [Monopoly] where they send you directly to jail,” Acevedo says of working with network and studio multicultural departments

Hollywood diversity departments have no power and no resources, according to Beatriz Acevedo, a leading digital media entrepreneur and expert in Latino audiences.

“At first, I thought this was my plan,” Acevedo told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman at TheGrill 2017. “I’m going to incubate digitally, I’m going to show the success. I’m going to go the networks, studios and the CMOs and CEOs of the biggest blue chip brands, and I’ll be great. And that works maybe [25 percent of the time].”

Acevedo, who got her start in the television industry, founded the digital network mitú to serve the audience of young, U.S.-born Latinos that has long being overlooked by larger content providers. She discussed the challenge of bringing diversity and inclusivity to Hollywood on a panel alongside The Blacklist founder Franklin Leonard and Lionsgate Television Group President Sandra Stern.

Young, multicultural audiences consumer more content than any other group, but Acevedo said it’s still a challenge to get executives to take that audience seriously.

“I speak at some of these conferences, and I give the data,” she said. “And the CEO and COO are always incredibly excited. They say, ‘We need to be in business with you guys, you guys are the demo we’ve been looking for, and we’re going to call you.’ And immediately it’s like winning that card in [Monopoly] where they send you directly to jail. You see their lips moving when they say, ‘We’re going to send you to the multicultural department.’”

“People in the multicultural departments are very nice people,” she said. “But they have no resources. They have no power. They have no say in the organization. They’re in the back, back, back of the building next to the supply closet.”

The problem, the panelists agreed, is not a lack of desire to address the issue in Hollywood, but deeply ingrained that have been baked into the industry from the very beginning. The only solution is new blood. Those executives leading diversity departments need to be leading the entire company.

“They need to sit in the boss’ chair,” Leonard said.

“The multicultural audience is actually more than 50 percent and growing, and yet somehow that is the silo that they put you in, separate from the main table,” he said, adding that the idea that catering to that audience is a “niche” pursuit is misguided.

“The reality is there are two choices at this point, if you’re in the big chair,” he explained. “You can either make changes, you respond to the reality of the ways in which the world is changing, or you will basically be in breach of your fiduciary obligation to your company, lose your job or your company, and someone else can replace you. And after that happens, the better off we all are as consumers of content and as a populace.”

Stern noted that Lionsgate does not have a diversity department, but Starz, now a Lionsgate subsidiary, has intentionally courted a culturally diverse group of creators because they saw the changing tide. “There was a decision that was made, a decision that there is a big world out there,” she said.

And with a majority nonwhite audience, that’s not serving a niche interest, it’s good business. “The idea that African-American content is niche because it’s African-American is as silly as me saying that white audience is niche because it’s niche,” Leonard said. “We’re in a post-niche era. Or an all-niche era.”

“Who’s at the top making those decisions, saying, ‘This is good business for us’?” Acevedo said. “There are smart people already thinking about that, and those are the companies that are going to survive and thrive. And for the rest that don’t, there will be some churn.”