Diversity and inclusion remains a hot button topic in entertainment, and during the network’s virtual TCA Winter 2021 Press Tour on Thursday, executives across ABC discussed ways the network is trying to improve the inclusivity of the stories it tells.
As a recent DGA report revealed, the there’s still work to be done to enhance opportunities for directors of color. There is additionally an acknowledgement that much of the critical leadership in entertainment is white and male and the desire to put this panel together ran off of that.
The hope is to move the conversation away from asking the talent about diversity initiatives and look at the leadership. “Inclusivity is to create one level playing field for everyone,” said Tim McNeal, the Vice President of Creative Talent Development and inclusion for Walt Disney Television at the network’s TCA panel on the subject. There’s an acknowledgement that the majority of decision makers, including those on this panel, remain white.
The showrunner sessions this year looked at inclusion dialogue specifically. “What we’re looking for are authentic stories from real-life experiences,” McNeal said. For the dramas at ABC the goal is to be diverse in point-of-view. “Targets are one thing but mandates are different,” said Brian Morewitz, SVP for drama development at ABC. ABC worked to implement a diversity mandate that would actively avoid checking off a box.
In the case of “The Rookie,” the cast and writing staff, even the crew, were diverse. “This season, obviously, we’re talking about policing issues and systemic injustice,” said Alexi Hawley, writer on the series. The diversity within the different perspectives allowed for a wider look at the world of the show. With “The Good Doctor,” which has an emphasis on disability, there has to be a push for diversity especially since those stories remain quiet, according to the series’ producer, David Renaud. On top of that, the casts of these various series are open to present their own viewpoints which can inform what they bring to the characters.
“Inclusion has always been an intention, or a thought, and planning is not prioritizing,” said Carol Turner, Executive Vice President of Production for ABC Signature. “Once we decided to make inclusion a priority it was actually easy.” Turner said it was about expanding their hiring pool, meeting all the people they didn’t know who had the experience and expertise but weren’t part of the inner circle. The past year also made the panel cognizant of how they’re part of the problem. “Those stories have mostly been told through a white male lens,” Morewitz said. “We’ve done a lot in the past year to affect some change.”
The death of George Floyd certainly brought up a shift in consciousness and a discussion of the inequity that exists in entertainment, according to McNeal. “There is sometimes this sense that this work started after George Floyd’s death,” said DMA, the director of creative talent development and inclusion for Walt Disney Television. “This work has been going on for years. Once the decision was made and the resources were in place that’s when the every day inclusion [started].” Now, there is a massive database to pull talent from.
“I’ve come to understand that just opening doors isn’t enough,” Hawley said. If the writers aren’t comfortable expressing themselves, the status quo stays the same. “Unless you do the work to make them feel that they can say what they need to say, you won’t hear them,” Hawley said. Morewitz explained that the younger people at ABC had no problem speaking out for themselves. “They’re basically fearless of making themselves known,” he said.
Jonathan Groff, the consulting producer for “black-ish,” said there has to be more work done in terms of looking outside the regular pipelines. If a show isn’t reaching out to groups they don’t know — or people who aren’t connected — then the work isn’t being done. Renaud, a wheelchair user, said he got put into a writers room at a time when people weren’t thinking of disability as an underrepresented group. “I got put in a room, and I’d like to think I had the talent, that I belonged in that room,” he said. Renaud explained those different stories and perspectives are vital.