Yesterday evening, ICON MANN held a panel at SAG-AFRTA’s Headquarters in Los Angeles, “Black Book Value: The Business of Diversified Content.”  The panel was moderated by ICON MANN founder Tamara Houston, and joined by Hollywood Executives, Cassandra Butcher, Vice President of National Publicity at Fox Searchlight, Alana Mayo, Production Executive at Paramount Pictures, and Tendo Nagenda, SVP Production at Disney.

The lack of inclusion in Hollywood has been a heavily discussed topic over the past few months stemming from the lack of recognition of non-white creators and actors in the Oscars for the second year in a row.  The panelists addressed the topic and agreed that the omission of diversity during the Oscar nomination process was not deliberate but was derived from strategies used by nominees during the campaign process.

“The filmmakers who come to us with the goal of being nominated for an Oscar need to start at the beginning. Because there’s a significant amount of money that needs to be spent when you’re doing an Academy campaign.  I’ve found that with movies like ‘Ray’, or ‘Hustle & Flow,’ those filmmakers knew what they wanted.”

“You don’t get nominated by luck, you get nominated because you campaigned. That means kissing a lot of babies, literally shaking a lot of hands and making sure Oscar voters are given opportunities to see the film.” – Cassandra Butcher, Vice President of National Publicity, Fox Searchlight

Although Cheryl Boone Isaacs has implemented a plan to improve diversity within the Academy by 2020, its current members and the nominees for this year are not an accurate reflection of the world that we live in today, and the nominees essentially reflect the makeup of the Academy which is predominantly white, led 94% by men. Of that percentage, 76% are white, with the average age being 63.  Based on the data, it is very clear that the majority of voters are from a different era and based on precedence, there is a specific type of film that the majority of voters enjoy primarily due to the fact that they are from a different generation and their definition of “cinematic brilliance” is different from ours.   This is not an excuse for the Oscars’ lack of diversity; however, the demographics of the voters play a major part in the issue that we are facing today.

“There are “traits of cinema The Academy has traditionally responded to, and a form of talent that The Academy knows and loves.” – Alana Mayo, Production Executive, Paramount Pictures

“If you’re looking at the Academy decisions you have to look at the Academy make up, in terms of what people feel is film quality and how they judge it.  There are trends that don’t just have to do with diversity and inclusion.  Generally, the types of stories that are chosen are, biopics, true life pieces, and dramas and comedies are preferred to sci-fi films.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy due to the Academy being filled with a lot of former Oscar winners thus reflecting previous results. This trend will eventually change as the Oscars membership evolves over time.”  – Tendo Nagenda, SVP Production, Disney

Even once the governing base of The Academy shifts, in order for inclusion to truly take place in this industry, things have to change within the system prior to the Oscars where “greenlighting” decisions are being made.  The studios, financiers, and distributors are the major pipelines that are responsible for making decisions about the films that are financed and inevitably reach mainstream audiences.  It’s very easy to resonate with projects that have leading protagonists and stories that are similar to our own backgrounds, and if there is a lack of diversity in this pipeline then that is exactly what the final product (films) will mirror.

“I wasn’t surprised by the lack of inclusion in the nominations over the past couple of years.  The Oscars and the Academy is a very public and visual representation of where the industry is every year, and it definitely starts way before you get to the point of nominations.” – Tendo Nagenda, SVP Production, Disney

The panel discussion also touched on several related issues, including the need for mentorship to bring the next generation of diverse talent into the industry, the very understandable desire from all audiences and creators to see themselves reflected in film and television, and the efficacy of a do-it-yourself approach.

Towards the end of the panel, the panelists were asked what they think the industry will look like in 5 years, and if it will be a more diverse body.  All agreed that changes will certainly be implemented to increase the amount of diverse content distributed across all platforms.

“That’s not just wishful thinking, it’s a necessity as our world becomes more diverse.  Disney is very much focused on a global landscape, and we have to play in every territory in the world. This happens be by being inclusive, by telling a variety of stories, by telling them in a variety of ways.” – Tendo Nagenda, SVP Production, Disney

“I don’t doubt the entertainment world will be more diverse in five years because of how global our business continues to become; China, for example, is the fastest growing international market.  Having our audience in mind it’s going to be so imperative to make movies that serve and speak to audiences that want to see themselves.” – Alana Mayo, Production Executive, Paramount Pictures

ICON MANN is a lifestyle media company impacting through community and content. The mission of ICON MANN is to champion the accomplishments and positive dialogue surrounding the Black male Diaspora. Being the best at what you do places you on the list.  How you consistently pay-it-forward puts you in the room, and makes you an ICON MANN.