entertainment

Solving Hollywood’s Diversity Problem One Story At A Time

Despite the fact that the year is 2019, women and people of color are still underrepresented in the television and film industry. The fight for diversity and equality in the entertainment industry is one that is definitely growing, but a recent study from UCLA found that women and POC are still the least represented. Here’s the crazy part: the study also found that audiences prefer to watch TV shows and movies where the cast is diverse. 

People of color – who make up almost 40% of the population in the United States – only made up 19.8% of movie leading roles, 21.5% of broadcast scripted series leads, 21.3% of cable scripted leads, and 21.3% of digital scripted leads, according to the study. Women – who make up more than half of the U.S. population – made up 32.9% of movie leads, 39.7% of broadcast scripted leads, 43.1% of cable scripted leads and 42.8% of digital scripted leads. 

But times are changing.

A huge reason for this change is thanks to leaders rising up within Hollywood and using their platforms to create the change that is necessary. That’s why it’s so exciting that AT&T has created the Hello Lab Mentorship Program to shine a light on Hollywood voices from women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color. AT&T believes these stories deserve to be heard, and they’re using their resources to create a safe space for underrepresented filmmakers to rise up.

What is the Hello Lab Mentorship Program and why is it important?

Most of us are familiar with AT&T as a mobile phone and internet carrier, but they’re much more than that. Not only does the company own DIRECTV, but the brand also launched its own streaming service, DIRECTV NOW in 2016. In 2018, AT&T merged with Time Warner, solidifying itself as a full media company. Thanks to the merger, AT&T will own several television networks, including HBO, along with Warner Brothers Studio. Because of this, AT&T is now in the unique position to create a vital, game-changing footprint in Hollywood.

Enter: The AT&T Hello Lab. 

The Hello Lab Mentorship Program exists to give an opportunity to underrepresented voices in the film industry. The program launched back in 2017 and serves to lift up filmmakers who are women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. The program provides filmmakers with a platform to tell their diverse and important stories.

Here’s another, very exciting part of the program: director, writer, actress, and producer Lena Waithe is serving as the lead mentor for the 2019 program! 

Along with her producing partner Rishi Rajani and Fullscreen, Waithe will oversee all of the film production phases in the AT&T Mentorship program. This includes talent selection, script editing, general counsel, set visits, and workshops. Basically, she’s running the show. It doesn’t get doper than that. Waithe got involved in the program because mentorship and finding new talent are top priorities for her – a program like this presents an incredible opportunity to find and have a hand in developing some great new writers and directors, while also helping to diversify the industry – it’s a win-win!

“What I consider activism, and what I consider my craft, are one and the same. Telling black stories, telling queer stories, working with up-and-coming talent – that’s my way of dismantling the homogony of Hollywood,” Waithe said in a statement regarding her partnership with the program.

Waithe continued, “And mentorship is essential for underrepresented creatives. Their stories are necessary for our culture and our collective growth. I’m proud to have a hand in ushering in a new generation of storytellers through this project. AT&T is walking the walk, and that in itself is special for a global brand with a massive audience.”

How It Works

This awesome mentorship program selects five up-and-coming talented screenwriters – AT&T will then produce and finance their projects. The screenwriters are paired up (by Waithe herself) with up-and-coming talented directors, to work together to bring their projects to life. The program is very hands on. The mentees are given access to the entire process – they’ll have opportunities to meet everyone from casting directors to major executives. This year, the esteemed Emmy-nominated casting director Kim Coleman (Black KKKlansman, Dear White People) has joined the program. Shelby Stone, the president of production at Common’s production company Freedom Road as well as an Emmy-winning film and television producer, will serve as an advisor for a third year in a row.

Running from June to November, the program will cover every stage of the process of making the films. Development began in June with various workshops and table reads. Next up was “Pitch Day”, complete with the director’s look books that lay out the style and tone of each piece, thoroughly describing how the directors plan to execute the screenplays. Production will take place between August 5 – 25, and then it’s onto the editing phase. After roughly six months, the program will wrap up in November with an exciting premier where the mentees will get to show their hard work to the world.

Another amazing aspect of the program is that it supports the filmmakers during the film festival season. The program supports the directors and writers as they go through the submission process, extending beyond 2019.

Meet the 2019 Mentees

The 2019 class of AT&T’s Hello Lab Mentorship Program is popping off with talent! From all across the country and from all types of backgrounds, the mentees have been specially selected for basically glowing with promise. Their backgrounds include everything from founding their own non-profits, to interning for Saturday Night Live, to create award-winning content for YouTube. These rising stars are ready to show the film industry what they’re really capable of… get ready!

This year, the directors in the program include Cierra Glaudé (Spilt Milk), Alison Eve-Hammersley (Fragile.com), Jessica Mendez Siqueiros (The Fat Friend), Vishnu Vallabhaneni (1/30), and Malakai (Postmarked). The writers include Mechi Parada Lakatos (Spilt Milk), Brittany Menjivar (Fragile.com), Jasmine Johnson (The Fat Friend), Malik Aziz (1/30), and Angela Wong Carbone (Postmarked).

The Workshops

These immensely talented mentees attended workshops over the course of four days in June. The workshops included panels and discussions on diversity and inclusion, development, production, post-production, mock-budgeting, marketing and social media training, and capturing content. The workshops had a multitude of special guests and speakers from all areas of the industry. There was also an exciting “speed-dating” event with producers, where each writer and director had five minutes to talk about themselves in order to find the best professional connection for them.

Though the workshop was only four days, the mentorship provided is daily. Mentors are in constant contact with their mentees, providing support that extends well beyond the program. 

The AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program is exciting and important. After all, who wants a bunch of straight white dudes creating everything? Audiences certainly don’t, and the film industry is beginning to catch on. According to a recent study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, U.S. movies that featured a woman in a leading role increased 20 percent in the last 10 years. The report also found that out of the 100 highest-grossing films in the last year, 40 of those were led by women and 28 were led by minorities. It’s time to see those numbers increase even more.

It’s 2019, and although we’re a lot further than we were years ago, we have a long way to go. It’s inspiring and exciting that the landscape of the entertainment industry is changing.

Stay Tuned!

As we follow the journey of this year’s AT&T’s Hello Lab Mentorship Program class, we’ll dive deeper into who they are, their projects, and their visions. 

Here’s to diverse voices and talent being held up, showcased, and given the opportunity to share their stories with the world!