Variety’s 2019 Inclusion Summit and the Importance of Perspective

By Ama Blankson-Barnes, The Collective, West Coast Ambassador

Perspective isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. This thought process laid the foundation for the third annual Variety Inclusion Summit, hosted in Los Angeles on Thursday. The summit gave its attendees a deep dive into the powerful force that diversity and inclusion is playing in the evolution of the film, entertainment, and media industries, much of which is driven by the demands of audiences who want to see themselves and their values reflected in the businesses and brands they support. With a slate of insightful sessions, the powerhouse elite of these industries shared their outlook to the room full of decision-makers, financiers, and creatives all looking for expert perspectives on this important topic.

Though every session was chock-full of amazing gems, there were two sessions that seemed to resonate the most deeply with attendees. The first was Brands Take a Stand for Millennials & Gen Z, moderated by Linda Ong, Chief Culture Officer with Civic Entertainment Group. This panel explored how the demands for diversity and inclusion by the younger generation are forcing brands to reframe not only their messaging, but who is creating the message. Are the decision-makers, writers, and producers of the message reflective of the diversity a brand says it supports?

Employing people who mirror the change that is being demanded allows brands to show that they aren’t just talking the talk but that they are serious about implementing an authentic narrative and mission. “Millennials and Gen Z will hold you accountable and call you on your bullsh*t,” said Maya Banks, Director Brand & Editorial at Netflix. If brands and companies want to attain and maintain their consumers, creating an authentic narrative that resonates with their audiences is non-negotiable and must start from the top down.

The Producing Inclusion – Putting Money Where Your Mouth Is session reinforced the call for the producers, presidents, and CEOs who make the top-level decisions to echo the diversity that their consumers want. James Lopez, President of Will Packer Productions, shared his story of being only one of four African American C-suite executives in one of the largest multimedia groups in the world. It begs the question: how can we push the message of diversity and inclusion if leadership doesn’t reflect this initiative? Presidents, CEOs, and founders of top production and media companies including Focus Features, Participant Media, and Color Force agreed that the only way inclusive film and media will continue to be financed is to make sure the decision-makers understand the importance and power of inclusive projects and campaigns–and that they also are as authentic in their diversity as their audiences.

Variety did an amazing job of continuing the conversation, and reinforcing the importance diversity and inclusion is playing in reshaping what our culture expects and demands. But ultimately what we should all strive for is this: that one day we don’t have to create summits and dialogue on this topic because it’ll be second nature to the brands and companies that have the ability to help shape our culture.