“There is a greater need for diverse communities of content creators and creatives to be themselves, see themselves, and own their own narratives. Simultaneously, there must be an equal response for the leaders and allies within our vast networks and studios to respond accordingly,” proclaimed Michelle Ray in her opening remarks at last week’s Hollywood Creative Forum. The Executive Director of the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which produces the Forum, set the tone for the two-day virtual event that served as a platform for honest conversations about diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.
The Forum, which was created over a decade ago, to connect content creators and creatives from diverse communities with greenlighting Hollywood executives, was an exercise in expansion. Because of its virtual presentation, there was an opportunity to open the doors to the largest audience to date (876, compared to the usual in-person attendance of over 200). The Forum also hosted its inaugural film screening of the documentary, Stateless, and the theme, Stories from the Diaspora, brought attention to both global audiences and creators.
All in all, there were several enhancements to this year’s Forum, including the host, journalist and producer Dana Blair, who brought her unique perspective of having spent time both in front of and behind the camera. These additions elevated the Forum’s ability to deliver on its promise of exploring the power of storytelling, while providing expert guidance on navigating the business of Hollywood and providing a space for meaningful networking.
If you were able to join us, here is a recap of what we experienced together. If you missed it, here’s what you can look forward to when you watch the replay.
WHY THE FORUM MATTERS
On opening day, Hollywood Creative Forum’s co-founder DMA, President of Planet DMA, spoke about the Forum’s impact over its 10-year history and how it has provided a platform for communities that have been voiceless, marginalized, and frustrated by the stereotypical depictions of themselves in media. DMA suggested that the pent-up demand for content worldwide can no longer be ‘gated’ for a specific few, rather it is about creating access to resources, opportunities, and connections for diverse content creators to tell their own unique stories.
KAITZTALKS PRESENTERS EXEMPLIFIED WHAT IT MEANS TO OWN THE NARRATIVE
On Day 1, Paula Madison, Chairman & CEO, Madison Media Management LLC & Principal Owner, The Africa Channel, shared her very personal and powerful story of racial identity that highlighted the reality of intersectional diversity. Madison’s exploration into her family’s history from China to the Caribbean resulted in the publication of her book Finding Samuel Lowe, which is printed in both English and Chinese and is now a documentary.
Detavio Samuels, CEO, Revolt Media & TV, opened day two of the Forum with a KaitzTalk entitled Taking Our Narrative Back. Samuels deftly tied struggles around social justice to incorrect portrayals and negative imagery of Black people dating back centuries. He directly linked the power of authenticity and owning your narrative to securing creative control and the power to greenlight projects. Samuels summed up his point through the African Proverb “until the lion learns to tell his own story, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
Diversity Exclusion: Understanding the Native American Voice in Entertainment, was led by Ian Skorodin (Choctaw), Director of Strategy, Native American Media Alliance & CEO, Barcid Foundation. The panelists, Cara Jade Myers (Wichita), Siena East (Choctaw), and Jason Grasl (Blackfeet) discussed the current state of inclusion and representation of Native Americans in the writers’ room. They further exposed the lack of awareness about diversity within indigenous communities dispelling the myth that the Native American diaspora is monolithic.
The Inaugural HCF Film Screening of Stateless: Participants viewed an abridged presentation of the latest project by award-winning filmmaker, Michèle Stephenson. After the screening, Stephenson and Vania André, Special Investigations Correspondent, The Haitian Times. discussed the creation of the documentary and the ongoing denial of birthright citizenship to individuals of Haitian descent by the Dominican Republic.
Writing Your Breakthrough Script featured Kelly Edwards, former HBO Executive, TV producer, and author shared the wisdom she has gained across her many professional lives with moderator, MaryAnne Howland, founder and CEO of Ibis Communications during the session. Edwards discussed her soon-to-be-released book, The Executive Chair, which offers a wealth of knowledge on how to craft your experiences into a viable content vehicle.
Original Content Pipeline: Moderated by Television Executive, DMA, this discussion focused on pitching and selling original content to networks and studios. Panelists included, Maitee Cueva, Executive Producer, Development & Production, A&E Networks, Brett King, VP of Creative Programming, Diversity & Inclusion, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Lynnette Ramirez, Head of Development, Bassett Vance Productions. The group shared their perspectives on content requirements, current marketplace demands, even duration for pitch presentations, and the need to have good representation. Presenters agreed that good storytelling, rich with authentic points of connection and the potential for endless exploration always wins the pitch.
Global Greenlight: Content Creators & Platforms Expanding the Global Lens: A talented panel of content creators provided insights on new market opportunities and developing content across an international spectrum in. Moderator Steven Adams, Manager/Producer, Co-founder, Alta Global Media talked with Samad Davis, International Content Producer & Distributor; Brendan Gabriel, VP of Production & Creative Director, The Africa Channel; and Writer, Director, Producer Peres Owino. The panelists agreed there is an insatiable appetite for international programming across all platforms, particularly from the African continent.
Inside the Writers Room: Moderated by Carole Kirschner, Director, CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program & Director and the WGA’sw Showrunner Training Program, showrunners, writers, and producers discussed what they look for in both entry and senior-level writers, how they ensure diverse representation in the writers’ room, and even how they tackle discord. Dayna Lynne North, Nichelle Tramble Spellman, and Alexander Woo Spellman offered that being successful means ‘pitching solutions’ rather than stating problems, while Woo said there was “an alchemy” to every room, and the best scenarios allow writers to build off of each other’s ideas and diffuse tension.
The Forum concluded with a lively networking reception where participants were able to introduce themselves and connect with panelists and presenters alike. At the conclusion of the event, it was announced that the Hollywood Creative Forum would return to Los Angeles in the Spring of 2022 as an in-person gathering.