Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) executives Kevin Monroe, senior vice president of business affairs and Peter Dodd, vice president of productions, visited Howard University to host a discussion on what it meant to be an executive at a major studio in Hollywood.
For Monroe, last Friday’s visit was a return to the Mecca. He earned a B.A in political science from Howard in 1994 and graduated from Howard Law School in 1997. The senior vice president expressed to the audience that he wanted to bring Warner Bros. Discovery to Howard’s campus to talk about the ways Howard students can see themselves at the company.
The pair walked the audience through the timeline of their careers, day-to-day duties and ended with a presentation on internship opportunities with WBD.
“[‘King Richard’], I’m proud of for obvious reasons,” expressed Dodd with a smile. As the vice president of productions, Dodd is responsible for finding new stories to tell. One of them ended up being the story of Venus and Serena Williams and their father, Richard, which received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Will Smith won Best Actor for his portrayal of the Williams’ father figure and Dodd explained to the crowd that the film’s director, Reinaldo Marcus Green, was the first Black director Will Smith had ever worked with on a major motion picture.
The film, only the third Green has directed, was a major opportunity for the director and writer of African American and Puerto Rican descent. Though, many people in the entertainment industry have said the same about the WBTV writers’ and directors’ workshops which started over 40 years ago and have been widely regarded as pipelines for writers and directors from underrepresented populations in Hollywood. An alumna from the programs include first generation Nigerian-American director, Bola Ogun, who directed episodes of “Lucifer” and the season finale of “Raising Dion.” Sonya Winton, a member of the 2010 cohort of writers, wrote episodes for and served as co-executive producer of HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.”
Despite exposing these writers and directors to top industry connections, “with the goal of earning [writers] a staff position on a Warner Bros. produced television show,” the company said in a statement that the workshops were not created with a “uniquely diversity lens” in mind.
On Oct. 11, the company announced it was ending the workshops at the end of its current season.
Michelle Paradise, a former workshop participant, was one of many who voiced their opposition to WBD’s decision. In a tweet, she expressed her disappointment, writing, “Thinking of all the unique and important voices that have been discovered through this program… and those we may now miss out on.”
The company’s announcement comes after it scrapped the release of highly-anticipated film “Batgirl” in August, which was set to star Leslie Grace, a Dominican-American actress, as one of the first Latino superheroes in Hollywood and a transgender Filipina-American actress named Ivory Aquino. The DC project was also being directed by Moroccan-Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.
The recent corporate actions made by WBD point to the fact that programs breaking barriers for people of color to gain access to the entertainment industry and diverse art are treated as expendable to major media companies.
“One of the things that even Warners will speak out loud about is it’s intentional to be diverse,” asserted Monroe. Though, the executive also stated, “It’s an industry, and it’s broad. And I’d say that there is no constitutional right for literally anybody to be in it.”
“The way we navigate is ourselves,” Monroe said, speaking on behalf of Dodd and himself.
“I am constantly ensuring that I’m reaching out to people that are a minority…to support their growth.”
Following the outcry from the public and industry professionals, WBD reported it would reinstate the program under its diversity, equity and inclusion division.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee