“Wherefore whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” Luke 12:3
A crime has been committed. A treasure trove of information from Sony Pictures Entertainment has been leaked and someone has committed a serious criminal act. The FBI and other authorities are on the case, searching for the person or persons responsible. Yet, in light of the hack and this act of cyber terror, emails have been released that have given a glimpse into the mindset of how studio heads, as well as high powered producers, communicate on a day to day basis. Emails between Sony studio chief Amy Pascal, producer Scott Rudin as well as Studio head Clint Culpepper have surfaced disparaging Angelina Jolie, Kevin Hart, and President Obama.
In a quick exchange between Pascal and Rudin, the emails that seem to have caused a serious firestorm and charges of racist thinking, are ones prior to Pascal meeting President Obama at the home of Jeffrey Katzenberg.
“According to Buzzfeed, Pascal asked Rudin for advice before going to an Obama fundraiser hosted by DreamWorks Animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg, particularly what she should ask the President at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast.”
“Would he like to finance some movies,” responded Rudin.
“I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” said Pascal, with Rudin replying “12 YEARS.”
“Or the butler. Or think like a man?” continued Pascal, who is a major donor to the Democratic party and President Obama.
“Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart,” said Rudin.”
Shonda Rhimes tweeted in response to the media’s reporting of the emails, “Calling Sony comments”racially insensitive remarks” instead of “racist”? U can put a cherry on a pile of sh*t but it don’t make it a sundae.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, Pascal says she and Rudin both feel “bad” about the emails and want to make amends. Pascal has even gone as far as to contact Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Outside of having issues with their remarks and the mindset, which continues in the studio system, this is patronizing to the point of being infuriating. I have much respect for both Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jackson, who have done a great deal in the fight for civil and human rights for people of color, but to be frank and honest if she and Rudin want to sincerely make amends, they are not the folks to contact. Why are Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jackson the go-to guys for white liberal guilt? This is simply not the path she should be taking.
Amy Pascal needs to sit down and talk with “Black Hollywood.” She needs to have a conversation and get to know the people who are on the ground busting their asses to get a foot in the door. Reach out to the Writer’s Guild of America, which has a Committee of Black Writers, or the DGA, which has an African American Steering Committee, or Cheryl Boone Issacs, the head of the Academy. Talk with the people of color in our industry. If she wants to make amends green light films and hire producers, directors, writers, and executives based on their talent and not think that just because a someone is black or a part of any other “group” that is the only perspective and scope of their work. There are lots of wonderful and talented people in this business with unique voices who simply need an opportunity. If Pascal, Rudin or any number of execs or producers took the time and got to know some them as human beings, things is our business might be a little different.
One of the first meetings that I had as a young writer in Hollywood was at the William Morris Agency. The agent asked me, “How bad did you have it growing up in the hood?” This is despite the fact I was pitching a romantic comedy and not a project about “the hood.” When I was a writer for Homicide, an agent’s assistant asked if I wrote dialogue for Andre Braugher and Yaphet Kotto. I said, “Yes, and for Richard Belzer, Danny Baldwin, Jon Seda, and Michelle Forbes as well.” I was once even brought in for a meeting to make a script more “black.” Essentially, this job would have required me to drop “g’s” and add a few slang words, not actually re-write the script. This is the mindset that Hollywood has for and about African-American talent. Yet, I know of writers and directors that write stories that delve into science fiction, fantasy, as well as thrillers.
If Amy Pascal seriously wants to be a part of the solution, she has to recognize she is also part of the problem. Sony Pictures Entertainment has over 150 projects in development. How many have writers or directors of color attached? On how many of those projects was a person of color actually considered? How many times has she turned down a film with black talent or subject matter “because it won’t play overseas?” How many new directors or writers of color has she met with in the past year? How many African-American, Latino, Native American, or Asian execs are at Sony in decision-making positions? The solution goes beyond just meeting Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jackson, but being an agent of change. She runs the studio. She has the power to make that change, especially if it doesn’t affect the bottom line.
This is more than just the cliché talk of diversity programs and policies. This is about a change in corporate culture and climate. This is about a transformation in regards to hiring practices and being inclusive. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Pascal has said, “The thing I’m focusing on is the future.” She wants to “accept responsibility.” I hope she is sincere and that her words are not hollow. If she is open, then she needs to lead and take steps towards real change in Hollywood, otherwise, she’s no better than whoever leaked the emails in the first place. And, therein lays the real crime.
Darryl Wharton-Rigby is an award-winning filmmaker from Baltimore, MD. He has written for NBC, BET, MTV, and NHK in Japan. He is in post-production in his latest feature film project, Stay, which was shot on location in Tokyo. He lives Japan with his wife and three children and working on the documentary, ‘Don Doko Don: The Yamakiya Taiko Club Story.’ Follow him on Twitter & Instagram @whartonrigby