There are countless woman of color who are talented directors, producers, editors, etc. working in the entertainment industry; however their near-absence behind the scenes hints at much deeper institutional problems in the television and film industry.  Despite the fact that Hollywood is thought to be a liberal environment welcoming creative differences, statistics have proven that a patriarchal culture continues to dominate this industry.  This past February, The Annenberg Report on Diversity examined 109 films that were released by studios in 2014, and of those films, 2 out of 109 were directed by black women, with DuVernay at the helm of Selma and Amma Asante directing Belle.

Despite these statistics, Alexis Wilkinson is one of many women pushing forward, breaking barriers, and making history.  23 year old Wilkinson made history by becoming the first African-American woman elected president of The Harvard Lampoon in the comedy publication’s 139-year history.  She was also able to secure a highly desired position as a staff writer on HBO’s hit series Veep, starring Seinfeld veteran, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, at the age of 23.

Generally it takes years of hustle and networking to become a staff writer on a hit cable series; however, Wilkinson was able to secure this coveted position in the entertainment industry prior to college graduation.  During the spring semester of her senior year, Wilkinson sent out copies of her humor magazine to alumni trustees with a note that simply reminded them that she would be graduating soon and would need a job.  David Mandel, the showrunner of Veep, was an alum who received this note and realized that Wilkinson’s comedic wit would be valuable to his show Veep.  Directly after graduation, Wilkinson was offered the opportunity to work on the series.  She left Harvard for Los Angeles with a job as a staff writer on the premium cable series, where she was the only writer of color on the staff.  She was also the youngest person on the staff, as the next youngest writer was 38.

How can you not love this hustle!

“I definitely was there when they didn’t understand Snapchat, or when two writers made some reference to an obscure 1960s cartoon, and they asked me if I knew what it meant.  I said absolutely not!  I was the millennial consultant.” – Alexis Wilkinson

In addition to breaking boundaries and making history, Wilkinson wrote and directed a Funny or die short titled, PC Culture Comes to the Plantation, and will soon be directing a feature that she has written.

As women, as people of color, we hold ourselves back so much by thinking things are off the table. Everything is on the table. You just have to grab it — or push someone else’s seat away to get yours.”  – Alexis Wilkinson

Wilkinson’s next stop will be Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and she hopes to be a showrunner one day so that she can change the landscape in comedy the same way that Shonda Rhimes changed the landscape in drama.

“I have a way to tell stories that allows people to understand things, and I think humor can be such a tool to help understanding. To laugh at something, you have to understand why you’re laughing. There’s a visceral response, but there is also an understanding of why that is funny. Humor comes from surprise, and being uncomfortable. And it allows people to sit in that discomfort for even a second. I think so much of that opens you up to accepting other things, and questioning other things.” – Alexis Wilkinson

Check out an interesting interview with Alexis Wilkinson on the Another Round podcast where she discusses her experiences working on Veep HERE

Check out her Funny or Die short, PC Culture Comes to the Plantation below:

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About The Author

Founder, HBR Media

K. Nicole Mills is the Founder of HBR Media. She transitioned from Wall Street to television and film development, and has worked at NBCUniversal, Universal Pictures, and Showtime Networks. She currently develops digital programming for premium networks. Reach out anytime! info@hbrmedia.org

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