“There is a lot of effort put into recruitment, and not retention,” said producer Monica Macer of the tactical inclusionary moves that much of Hollywood makes.
“I want to keep creating spaces for writers of color to have a seat at the table, so that our stories can be centered,” the former Queen Sugar and MacGyver showrunner stated at ATX’s Television in an Era of Racial Reckoning panel today. “Even though we are an action, run and jump show, I am still going to say something,” Macer also said of her approach while in charge of the now shuttered CBS series and its final season’s depiction of the currents and potential change sweeping America over the last year.
Pre-recorded over two weeks ago just around the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the virtual panel moderated by the ACLU’s Darryl Ewing, featured Macer, along with Them showrunner Little Marvin, A Black Lady Sketch Show’s Ashley Nicole Black, and This Is Us co-EP Kay Oyegun. Wide ranging in topics, the panel was ramrod focused on the power of narrative and representation amidst “America’s legacy of racism and oppression,” as Ewing straightforwardly said.
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“It’s a white show on NBC,” declared Oyegun of the blockbuster tearjerker that is This Is Us, while noting the power of performance by Sterling K Brown and other actors of color on the s Dan Fogelman created show. “Part of me loves the idea of going into white spaces telling stories, being true and they’re just going to have to deal with it,” the Queen Sugar vet and NAACP Image Award winner continued, emphasizing that part of the work is “just pushing.”
Noting that she had a different perspective than many due to her early years growing up in Nigeria and never actually seeing a white person in person until she was 11, Oyegun said when she first inked her overall deal with the then 20th Century Fox TV in 2019 she was inundated with stereotyped ideas for shows like “the first Black woman to brush her teeth.” Ideas that negated her talents, her range and the stories she wanted to tell. “We tend to see ourselves in ways that white people can’t see us,” the producer stated.
With its scope of participants from broadcast, streaming and premium cable , the admittedly showrunner heavy panel sought to push the industry dialogue to broader concepts of representation that reflect reality and not just good intentions.
“We make black characters have to be so perfect, or so kind or so whatever,” Brown said.
“I do think optimism and joy are important,” the Emmy winning former Full Frontal writer and correspondence went on to say. “Being clear headed, being rational about what is actually happening is important too, and I do think showing all facets of us is important …let’s be honest and let’s be real,” Brown said. “I think that is what Black artists can do that better than anybody else because we’ve lived it.”
The value of those voices and those visions was laid out in the clearest terms by Little Marvin, whose Lena Waithe EP’d Them launched on Amazon on April 9.
“You don’t really realize as a kid not seeing yourself in something you love you are being erased,” the first time showrunner proposed of the absence of pivotal Black characters in classic horror like the work of Alfred Hitchcock and others that Marvin would watch growing up. “How are we ever going to get equity if we aren’t allowed to play with every crayon in the crayon box?”
The honesty and often humor the participants displayed in the panel only made all the more evident how much more grind needs to be done to bring more voices, more stories and more talent to the fore
“I’ve been in rooms where people say we couldn’t find any Black writers and I’m like what, here let me give you my phone, I’ll find one for you,” proclaimed Macer towards the end of today’s gathering.
“I just want to coming against that myth that we don’t exist when it comes to writers of color who are qualified. There are so many people trying to break in at the bottom, and it’s like when I was staffing Queen Sugar Season 2, couldn’t not find an upper level Black woman. You know why? Because not enough of us had matriculated through the system to the upper level positions. …because we’re free, and therefore we are not seen as valuable, when it is exact opposite.”
“That is why you can’t get an upper level Black woman, and that was in 2016 and now it is 2021 and it is even harder because we have not done the work as a community, as the entertainment system,” Macer detailed.
The 2021 ATX festival runs until June 20.