Aug 24 2016

“Making Moves and Making Changes.” by Eseosa Azenabor

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After two years of classes, internships, and group projects, I returned to Pittsburgh this spring to walk the stage as a graduate of a Masters in Entertainment Industry Management from Carnegie Mellon University. I can’t begin to express how happy and proud I am to have come this far. At the same time, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of anxiety. For the first time in my life, I won’t be a student. Taking classes? Studying? Those things I know. But now I’m about to start a whole new journey in life, and the truth of the matter is, I’m scared.

Even as I am at this pivotal time in my life, so also, is the entertainment industry. For many years, but especially in the last 2 to 3 years, the topic of diversity and inclusion has been top of everyone’s minds. Explanations have been given on why there is little representation by women, people of color and other minority groups in front of and behind the camera. There has been progress, but there still seems to be slow movement by some and no movement by others towards more inclusion. This, I believe, is because like me, many people in the industry are scared.

I’m not privy to the conversations that happen amongst the powers that be, but I can guess that they are asking themselves: How will this work? Is the reward worth the perceived risk? What will our shareholders think?  At a time where every media company is beholden to quarterly reports, it’s not surprising that tried and true practices are being held on to for so long. However, we must take into account that the landscape of viewership is changing. More specifically, the buying power of minority groups is growing. Beyond that, there is a greater availability of untapped talent whose innovative stories are waiting to be told.

As the spring intern in CBS’s Entertainment Diversity department, I had the opportunity to assist with receiving applications for the writers’ mentorship program. One of the requirements is a spec script for a show currently on the air. As I began to process these applications, I noticed that so many writers chose to write an episode of Black-ish, Master of None, Fresh off the Boat, or The Mindy Project. These shows feature minorities both in front of and behind the camera and they are doing quite well at it. The networks and studios behind these projects were willing to take the risk to put these shows on the air. As a result, they have inspired other minority writers and enabled them to infuse their own unique voices into authentic stories viewers can identify with. The talent involved in these shows continue to make it possible for television to be more inclusive and diverse. But they cannot do this alone.

A way for change to come and to stick, is for those in positions of power to take a chance. To take a chance on someone like me. Or more directly, someone not like them. On someone who may not be a Bruin, or a Trojan. Whose pedigree and background are unspoken for in the industry. Those voices need to be heard. Their thoughts and innovations are waiting to be tapped into.

Uncertainty of the future is a guarantee whether the conservative or unknown path is taken. But we all have to take a risk. Changing direction is difficult. It takes courage and the willingness to go into unchartered territory, but I am certain that the future of the entertainment industry will be more diverse and inclusive. As I enter the workforce, there is a multitude of decisions I must make and through it all, I will continue to work towards greater diversity in the entertainment landscape. As Robert Frost said, let’s all be willing to take the road less traveled by. And surely, it will make all the difference.