Diversity Soars On-Screen, but Lags in Hollywood’s Rooms of Power

Three years after the viral movement #OscarsSoWhite highlighted the exclusion of people of color from all levels of show business, 2018 brought some visible wins for diversity. But the inclusive spirit has yet to translate into inclusive hiring at top executive rungs of the major studios and talent agencies.

Despite highlights like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” and their respective box office hauls, and the fact that 16 movies in the top 100 were directed by African American filmmakers, the levers of decision-making within the country’s most powerful media organizations continue to be largely controlled by white males — particularly in the film industry.  No major film studio is run by a person of color, and only one, Universal, boasts a female chairman, Donna Langley.

Variety did its own evaluation of top leadership across town to mark our annual Inclusion Impact Report. Here are the findings: 



The monolith’s shadow only grew this year with its acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film and TV. With that came some fluctuation that tipped already favorable gender scales. Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden, 20th Century Fox Film vice chairman Emma Watts and Fox Searchlight co-head Nancy Utley joined Disney’s leadership ranks. In 2018, Cathleen Taff was promoted to president of global theatrical distribution, making Disney the only major studio to have a female distribution chief. Kathleen Kennedy continues to run point at Lucasfilm, the production company behind “Star Wars,” while “Frozen” director Jennifer Lee was newly appointed to lead Disney Animation. Diversity at the senior level, however, remains elusive outside of studio marketing chief Asad Ayaz. The company declined to disclose what percentage of senior leadership was inclusive.


After Jim Gianopulos took the reins in 2017, the studio was hit with two accusations of gender bias, from former marketing chief Megan Colligan and TV chief Amy Powell. Both claims were settled privately. Last year, Gianopulos named Nicole Clemens to the top TV job. Paramount Animation has long been anchored by Mireille Soria. Several key studio leaders sit on a Global Inclusion Advisory Committee, formed by Paramount owner Viacom and chaired by CEO Bob Bakish and group exec VP Marva Smalls. Paramount declined to disclose the percentage of diversity among its top executive team.


From the vice president level up, executive leadership is 42% female — an 8% improvement in the last decade — and roughly 26% of the team identifies as ethnically diverse, insiders familiar with the studio said. In the past year alone, 50% of hires VP or higher were female, and 30% were ethnically diverse. Notable recent additions include Ellene Miles, an African American senior VP of intersectional marketing who was brought in to help the studio reach underrepresented communities in efforts to push groundbreaking fare like “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”  Sony declined to disclose what percentage of leadership was inclusive.


Under Langley’s leadership of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Janine Jones-Clark was appointed senior VP of Global Talent Development and Inclusion, a new branch aimed at raising the studio’s diversity efforts. Reporting to Langley is Abhijay Prakash, president of the filmed entertainment group. At film divisions under the Universal umbrella, Margie Cohn was recently named president of DreamWorks Animation, while Lisa Bunnell serves as distribution head at Focus Features. Langley sits on a committee with NBCUniversal Film and Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell and NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer. The company declined to disclose what percentage of senior leadership was inclusive.


With the ouster of Kevin Tsujihara, the interim leaders include one woman, chief financial officer Kim Williams, who serves alongside Warner film group chief Toby Emmerich and television head Peter Roth. The studio’s DC Films unit is run by Walter Hamada. In October, parent company WarnerMedia made an unprecedented pledge to adopt a policy that would ensure equitable hiring practices at every level of production. The company also promised a sweeping audit to gauge internal diversity, and will publish the results ahead of this month’s Cannes Film Festival. WarnerMedia declined to disclose its employment demographics.



Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane serve as managing partners and Richard Lovett as president at the storied agency. Executives like Christy Haubegger, the founder of Latina magazine and head of multicultural business development, and chief innovation officer Michelle Kydd Lee help boost diversity initiatives within the agency. Notable among those is the Amplify Database, a searchable list of television writers of color. The agency declined to disclose diversity and inclusion percentages.


The Century City shop, which serves names like Shonda Rimes and Ellen DeGeneres, was the only agency to fully disclose numbers. According to an agency spokesperson, 50% of ICM employees are women, 25% of the workforce identify as nonwhite and 45% of agents are women, as are 33% of the board of directors.


Under the leadership of CEO Jeremy Zimmer, this year UTA became the first major talent agency to appoint a woman as chief financial officer in Lyndsay Harding. Agent Blair Kohan also joined the board of directors, the first female appointment since Tracey Jacobs in 2008. In January, Darnell Strom was hired to lead the new Culture and Leadership division. The company declined to disclose what percentage of senior leadership was inclusive. 


Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell’s talent shop (turned conglomerate Endeavor) has similar programs to CAA, such as Endeavor Empower. Led by Theresa Kang-Lowe and Phil Sun, the program aims to pair every new assistant in the door with an agent mentor. While the agency was satisfied with its diverse recruitment efforts, retention was an issue, due to how often rising agents tend to shuffle jobs. At parent Endeavor, one of the most visible women of color in entertainment, Bozoma Saint John, serves as the chief marketing officer. Last October, WME hired Under Armour executive Kerry Chandler as chief human resources officer, citing her “unwavering commitment” to diversity. The company declined to disclose what percentage of senior leadership was diverse and inclusive.

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