Hollywood Heavyweights Seek Ways to Increase Diversity at Variety Inclusion Summit

On May 9, the Variety Inclusion and Diversity Summit will be held at 1 Hotel West Hollywood, shining a light on individuals who seek a revolution within the industry while addressing multiple social topics that continue to dominate national discussion. This year, a multitude of panels will be offered during the event, with various speakers contributing their passion and knowledge in an effort to further the conversation surrounding the ever-shifting Hollywood landscape.

“We’re currently experiencing a moment of great change,” says keynote speaker Viola Davis. She adds that continuing to champion diversity within filmed entertainment “is my legacy and it’s what I envision for the entire world.”

Davis’ husband, Julius Tennon, serves as co-president of their company, JuVee Productions, which aims to create ethnically diverse material for both film and television.

“We’ve all been spoonfed narratives about marginalized characters, but what we’re looking to do is tell stories that focus on the normalization of those previously marginalized characters, and how they more accurately reflect today’s society,” Tennon says. It’s also about finding creative voices to nurture. “People want to see stories that reflect themselves.”

Liz Jenkins, chief financial officer for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, will moderate the Founders Roundtable.

“Telling diverse stories, and having them told by and about women, is of major importance to us,” she says. “Underserved audiences are hungry for content that speaks to them. Being socially responsible is important because what we see on-screen influences culture.”

Civil-rights activist and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke will host a conversation on the past year of the historic movement, where so much has happened so quickly. “The entertainment industry deeply influences how we’re introduced to communities we are not part of, and that some may have power over, so it should examine the ways in which those stories are sourced and shared,” Burke says. And right now, equal representation is a top priority. “Hollywood needs to continue to look inward to deal with the root causes of the lack of representation across the industry.”

Producers will also be on hand to discuss how Hollywood is looking for varied talent and fresh storytelling ideas, as the recent success of ethnically diverse projects such as “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” have challenged long-standing expectations of what certain types of films might be able to generate in terms of box-office success.

“You can’t fall back on the expected anymore when it comes to your creative choices,” says Jonathan King, president of film and TV for Participant Media, who will speak at the summit. “Keeping the conversation current is what we look for, and sometimes you need to take chances.”

Other hot-ticket panels, such as Inclusion in the Writers’ Room, will focus on how embracing new, creative voices is of critical importance, as well as making room for people in previously marginalized groups. Showrunners and writers will discuss how the notion of inclusion is important to modern storytelling, with speakers including Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Leslye Headland (“Russian Doll”). Also on the schedule is a conversation with Valeisha Butterfield Jones, who serves as Google’s global head of community inclusion, and roundtables The Music Industry and Inclusion in the Zeitgeist: Socially Aware Film and TV Storytelling, which will talk about what is breaking through to viewers, and why narratives and characters with bolder, authentic communal voices are broadly resonating with audiences

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