Women at Sundance discuss diversity in Hollywood

Effie Brown
Film and television producer Effie Brown believe that women and people of color are taking a back seat in Hollywood. (Associated Press)

Film and television producer Effie Brown believes that women and people of color have been complicit, at some level, in taking a backseat in Hollywood.

“Somehow, we co-signed this. Somehow, we participated,” she said Monday at the annual Women at Sundance brunch.

Brown, who became a public voice for diversity and inclusion in entertainment after butting heads with Matt Damon last year in an episode of HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” encouraged the women in attendance to explore their own unconscious bias and “blind spots” — and then to go further.

If those who want to change the equation in Hollywood aren’t taking action against the status-quo, they’re supporting it, she said. Brown urged everyone in the room to “hire, mentor and invest” in women and people of color. That perspective was echoed by every speaker at the invitation-only event, including Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley and actor/director/producer Elizabeth Banks, who discussed their rise in Hollywood and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.

“We are up against something,” Banks said, “Which is the entirety of human history.”

Jacki Zehner, a member of the Sundance Institute’s board of trustees, told brunch guests to “vote with their wallet” to support stories by and about women and people of color. Purchasing power, she said, is “the most under-used tool of social change.”

The Sundance Institute has been working with Women in Film for several years to study barriers to success for female and minority filmmakers. Their research shows that women comprised only 4.2 percent of directors of the top-grossing films between 2002 and 2013.

In October, the two organizations convened a meeting of Hollywood studio, network and agency heads to discuss the issue and possible solutions. Some suggestions included unconscious bias training for entertainment-industry workers, and a “gender parity” stamp to recognize productions making significant strides in hiring women in all positions.

“Women make up half the population and people of color make up 40 percent,” Brown said, taking on the presence of a preacher in front of a devoted choir. “There is no such thing as innocent by-standing anymore.”

“Our voice is powerful. We are a force of nature,” she said. “There’s nothing more fierce on God’s green earth than a woman with her mind made up.”

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