Did Hollywood DEI Just D-I-E?
"The industry had its 'Black Moment' and now it's over," says one writer, as studios pull back
TV writer and actress Bianca Sams refers to it as “Red Wednesday”: this past July 12th when news crescendoed into a final count of five heads of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at major Hollywood institutions — Warner Bros. Discovery, Disney, Netflix, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the BBC — leaving their positions in a mass exodus within days of each other. Some of the executives left due to corporate restructuring, but some, including Jeanell English, who’d been the Academy’s Executive Vice President of Impact and Inclusion since 2022, suddenly resigned.
“Seeing that hit my inbox was a bit of a jolt,” says Sams, a co-chair for the WGA’s Committee of Black Writers whose credits include Charmed and Don’t Look Deeper. “It made me very sad. As a Black writer it felt like a bit of a gut punch. Like, oof, what’s going to happen on the back end of this?”
Tracy Bing, another prominent Black leader in Hollywood and head of content at Rideback Rise, a non-profit accelerator started by mega producer Dan Lin that focuses on developing BIPOC-created content, had a similar reaction. “It just feels like in the greater world, beyond film, things are going backwards. There was the announcement that the Supreme Court was banning affirmative action, literally, like, a week before I heard about DEI departments being gutted at studios. Some of those people were forced out, but others left because it felt like the climate in their companies wasn’t supportive.”
The writers strike may be over, but for people of color, those with disabilities, and LGBTQ members of Hollywood, the past months have had broader, more disheartening implications than a work stoppage. Beyond the exits of DEI leaders, industry-wide layoffs and TV and film cancellations due to belt-tightening have had a severe impact on recent gains. Max let go of so many Black and brown executives in August 2022 that one former employee told the Daily Beast, “I don’t think anyone knows just how white the staff is.”
Indeed, three years after George Floyd’s murder ignited a wake-up call in Hollywood, and feverish response through public, grandiose commitments to invest in more diverse stories, talent, and executives, many today are left wondering: What has been accomplished?
“There’s not a person of color, really — maybe Bela Bajaria at Netflix — who can greenlight something” in Hollywood, Karen Horne, the former DEI North America SVP at Warner Bros. Discovery, who was let go last this summer, tells me.