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Hollywood Diversity Association Kicks Off Initiative With Symposium

The Hollywood Diversity Association launched an inclusion initiative to increase diversity, both in front and behind the camera with a symposium held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City June 7.

The Hollywood Diversity Association (HDA) hosted the Hollywood Inclusion Symposium entitled Where Do We Go From Here? The title of the symposium, a common one in racial conversations and a salute to Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here,” urged an inclusive America.

Panelists at the symposium included actress Iona Marie Morrisactress from “Robotech,” “Star Trek,” and “Fantastic Four,” Dawnn Lewis, known for her role as Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor in the NBC sitcom “A Different World,” Canadian YouTube star and television producer Paul Telner, and documentary maker, Osiris Castaneda.

The overarching theme of the evening was centered around focusing on embracing a comprehensive solution to the issue that originated with #OscarsSoWhite, when Actress Jada Pinkett Smith and director Spike Lee declined to attend The Academy Awards in 2016.

“The outcry which arose at the time, brought the phrase, “the elephant in the room,” out into the open. The inclusion crisis in Hollywood and the “good ole boys” mentality of the film and television industry was brought to the light,” event organizers said.

“Lack of inclusion in the industry can be defined as underrepresentation of meaningful roles for actresses and actors. This list included African Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities, LGBT members, and women,” they added.

Panelists made suggestions and recommendations in regards to increasing engagements of diverse talent at all levels of the industry.

The symposium’s keynote speaker was Dr. Darnell Hunt, one of the country’s leading researchers at UCLA and a voice on race and media. The African American scholar and chair of sociology at UCLA has worked on various projects for over twenty years on the issue of access and diversity in Hollywood.

Hunt is also the director of the Bunche Center at UCLA. He shared his research with the private audience of over 75 industry insiders including Kelsey Scott from “12 Years A Slave,” Victoria Rowell from “Young and The Restless,” among others.

Hunt’s presentation stated that, “In the industry, there are three white film directors for every black director, and there are three white film leads for every ethnic individual with the role of a lead. Furthermore, minorities are also underrepresented nearly 5:1 among film writers, even though they make up 40 percent of the US population. Minorities are expected to become a majority within a few decades,” organizers explained.

For every 12 male directors, there is just one female director, Hunt revealed.

This does not mean women or minorities are less talented than white males, organizers said. It may just mean that they are underappreciated. Dawnn Lewis urged that legends be recognized for the work they have done in the past and are doing now. She said, “There should be no excuse for Hollywood to say that there are no talented black directors, writers or producers.”

Actress Iona Morris, daughter of actor Greg Morris, who starred in “Mission: Impossible,” herself producer and director, spoke of her father’s first-hand experience of Hollywood’s historic resistance to improving diversity.

“Even after HDA and other similar associations are in place, actors from ethnic minority communities are still facing many of the same issues she saw her father dealing with when she was younger,” organizers said.

At the same time, Morris said, “Although we have a long way to go, I can see how things are getting better.”

In his speech, Hunt applauded HDA’s efforts and its approach to inclusion, adding that innovations of this nature are needed if we are to address the diversity crisis in Hollywood. HDA’s co-founders, J.R. Pittman and Vanzil Burke came to the symposium armed with “the Pittman-Burke Approach to Inclusion and Diversity,” unveiling how it will aggregate diverse talent, using the HDA Talent App.

The app can be used by industry executives as a pipeline to access diverse talent, ranging from actors, writers, producers, and directors, the HDA explained. “Additionally, this app will also gather other behind-the-camera talent, such as camera operators and sound technicians,” they added.

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