Published on February 22, 2017, at 8:53 a.m.
by Kahla Anderson.
In recent years Hollywood has seen a positive shift in leadership. Women are starting to receive the respect and opportunity that they deserve. More specifically, African-American women are solidifying their spot at the top.
With the inclusion of African-American women in leadership positions within top media companies, it is important to analyze what this shift means for the company, its diversity efforts and content choices.
Women like Terri Hines, who recently became the executive vice president of communication at Fox Sports, and Channing Dungey, who became the first African-American woman to head a broadcast TV network, are opening the doors for women to lead in Hollywood.
I enlisted the help of two women, Makeda Njie Torres and Jazelle Merritt, who are navigating through the entertainment/media industry in their own lane, to discuss the positive change in leadership occurring in Hollywood. Torres is a publicist at Allied Integrated Marketing, where she manages regional publicity for television and studio clients, including Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Open Road Films. Merritt is a graduate of Howard University School of Communications, where she majored in television production and minored in entrepreneurship. She currently serves as the District of Columbia-Maryland-Virgina area representative for WMDE-TV, where she produces local television shows and serves as the studio administrator and compliance specialist. These women decided to spread a little #BlackGirlMagic and share a few gems of being women of color in this industry.
It is important that content is created that uplifts and sheds a positive light on the African-American community and debunks any stereotypes that many may believe. With television as a platform, this will be possible.
“It’s really powerful. We are taking our place and positions,” said Merritt. “We have been trailblazers in so many things and are now getting recognized for it. We are using our own strengths and talents to fill these opportunity gaps and, in a way, improve the image of African-American people in the media — so we can ensure that the content is empowering our culture since we have more control.”
Woman or not, having people of color in a company brings forth ease in knowing that a representation of African-American culture is present. Under former ABC Executive Paul Lee, shows such as “Black-ish” and Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” were born. With Dungey now in charge, this type of diversity in content will continue to grow.
When asked about being an African-American woman in Hollywood, Torres replied,“So I’d relate my experience to those of black women in every industry in that I think we have to work harder. We just do. But I won’t complain because I believe our strength is where our magic lies. So specifically, for me, it’s made me relentless in my pursuit to see us have a seat at the table.”
And with companies’ diversity efforts, Hollywood is opening up to the idea of women in general to take the lead, which is a big step in itself. And if the opportunity is not presented within these companies, there are those women who will create their own content and positions, and organizations will have no choice but to recognize the greatness in front of them.
As far as movie and TV show content goes, Torres believes, “We definitely need to have access at the executive level, to green-light more of our projects. But to affect content, it’s equally as important that we are behind the scenes creating. As we continue to infiltrate the industry as doers — writers, editors, filmmakers, publicists, casting directors, set designers, costume designers — content will continue to flourish. Our opinions, our experiences, our judgment and our authenticity matter.”
Black women are magical, multi-dimensional and have a story to tell.
“I believe the most common characteristics of women of color are their ambition and confidence in their own skill to get something done — ambition and confidence to be in a position of power,” Merritt said. “As a trailblazer you realize, what you are doing is bigger than you, so you accept the responsibility and work it out. You have to be overconfident and on top of it … and look for what is not being asked. You have to dwell in your space. You have to walk on the road less traveled.”