The 3rd annual Variety Inclusion Summit was held on November 15th at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. The summit featured a bevy of film and television stars and Hollywood professionals, including actor/producers Diego Luna (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Eva Longoria Baston (Desperate Housewives), director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther), and Entertainment Studios founder/CEO Byron Allen.
In the morning session, Scott Silveri, creator and Executive Producer of the ABC/20th Century Fox show Speechless, mentioned that the show’s success had everything to do with timing. He said that he thought when he first went to pitch the show that the network would resist a comedy that included a family member with a disability and that he was “ready for a fight,” but instead he found them to be completely open to the idea, adding that they even informed him that they had been looking for exactly that type of content. The show, now in its third season, was inspired by Silveri’s brother who had a disability and so it is especially important to him to, as he said, “get it right.” Besides casting young actor Micah Fowler, who has Cerebral Palsy, to portray the main character JJ DiMeo, they have also hired creative professionals who have disabilities behind the camera, such as staff writer/comedian Zach Anner and episode director Ben Lewin.
Sharing the panel with Silveri was CJ Jones, who passionately discussed his career frustrations as a hearing impaired actor and his recent big break when Edgar Wright cast him in Baby Driver. Then, to the chagrin of his interpreter who admitted on stage that he hadn’t yet seen the film, CJ got a big laugh by dramatically “firing” his interpreter on the spot.
In the three years that Variety has held this summit, we can already see a progression even within the diversity discussions themselves. The first year it was held was in 2016, the same year of the “Oscars So White” campaign. However, despite people with disabilities making up the largest minority group, there was not a single disabled person included in their “diversity” summit. This year, not only have people with disabilities been included in the discussion, but Easterseals of SoCal even participated as an event panel sponsor.
In one of the highlights of the day, Eva Longoria Baston discussed her desire for more inclusive hiring practices on her new show Grand Hotel. “I wanted a female DP and they were like, ‘There’s three.’ (laughing) And I was like, ‘I’m sure there’s more,’ and they kept going ‘but this Bob is great, Tom is great, he did this,’ and I said ‘I’m sure they’re great, but I want to interview female DPs.’ And I just dug my heels in until finally they put one in front of me and she was amazing and qualified and brilliant and creative, and so, we have a female DP on Grand Hotel which is awesome!” Eva’s persistence lead to a wonderful opportunity for a talented female DP and satisfied her own wish to enrich the production by diversifying her team.
This daylong event is intended to galvanize media professionals’ commitment to include those who are underrepresented in front of and behind the cameras. The dedication to present this event annually has established Variety as an industry trailblazer that is taking important steps to advance the inclusion discussion and thereby improve the employment opportunities for minorities within our influential industry and beyond.
Jenni Gold is an award-winning writer, director, & film producer whose latest project CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion is currently on sale on iTunes, Amazon, and GooglePlay. Jenni is the CEO of Gold Pictures, a woman-owned entertainment company in Los Angeles whose mission is to produce quality entertainment that will stand the test of time.
Samuel W. Reed is a screenwriter, producer, and author who co-wrote & co-produced CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion and also serves as the Creative Executive at Gold Pictures, Inc.