Diversity-focused academy program boosts Hollywood dreamers
LOS ANGELES — The diversity crisis in Hollywood may rage on, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to try to open up access to the entertainment business for people from underrepresented communities and give some a foot in the door at the most critical moment — when college graduation is in sight and the job market is looming.
For seven weeks this summer, 107 college students from across the nation convened in Los Angeles for internships at places like HBO, Warner Bros., Dolby Laboratories, Universal Pictures, IMAX and AMC Networks, in addition to film screenings and weekly panels on various aspects of the film industry from people at the top of their fields.
Notable speakers this summer included cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (“Schindler’s List”), production designer K.K. Barrett (“Her”), “Sorry to Bother You” director Boots Riley and actress Lily Collins, who dished on the casting process. Cinematography and production design students even got to work with Daryn Okada, an academy governor, to recreate a scene from “Mean Girls,” which Okada shot.
The program, now in its second year, continues to evolve. In addition to giving spots to over 30 additional students, this year Academy Gold added a Production Track program for students interested in cinematography, production design, post-production and film editing.
The statistics remain dire in the entertainment business job market for anyone who isn’t a white, straight, able-bodied male. A survey from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that of the top 100 grossing films of 2017, two percent had female cinematographers and 14 percent had female editors. And according to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, across 1,100 of the top grossing films over the past decade, 64, or 5.2 percent, had black directors and 38, or 3.1 percent, had an Asian or Asian-American director.
Academy Gold is an industry-wide effort to infuse the entertainment business with diverse talent at the early stages of a career. The film academy, which puts on the Oscars, has been criticized in the past for the lack of diversity in its membership ranks, and has been making strides to correct over the past two years. In addition to inviting new members with an eye toward inclusion, the Academy Gold program is addressing the issue at an earlier stage.
Academy Gold wrapped its summer program this past weekend and sent its second class of alumni back to finish their college educations armed with a designated mentor for eight months, contacts, peers and even a few new career ideas.
“A lot of students who came in thinking they wanted to do one thing have said, ‘You know what I think I might be interested in cinematography or editing,’ “ said Bettina Fisher, the academy’s director of educational initiatives.
Tatianna Sims, a 21-year-old New York University student from New Jersey, interned this summer with Marvel Studios in the VFX and post-production department.
“The greatest thing about this program is hearing about first-hand experiences from people who have amazing careers,” said. “From the outside, it looks like this gilded place where no one can enter, but when speaking with a lot of the panelists you see how achievable a lot of your goals are.”
Twenty-six entertainment businesses funded the program, which not only ensures that interns are paid, but also provides stipends for over 30 students to help with living expenses. It proved “life-changing” for Vaughn Arterberry, a 22-year-old aspiring director from Oakland, Calif, who interned in production and development at Focus Features this summer before he starts at the University of Southern California Film School in January.
“I wouldn’t have been able to afford to live in LA this summer without some help financially,” Arterberry said before a panel on film financing and distribution. “I’m extremely grateful for what they’ve done.”
Some alumni are already seeing the benefits of their Academy Gold experience and the mentorship with a film academy member that follows.
Jordan Moss, who interned in the accounting department of Paramount Pictures in its pilot year and aspires to be in animated feature development, said he’s most grateful for the peers he met.
“I believe that these are the people who are going to be running the industry some day,” Moss said.
Program administrators want to start tracking the development of their alumni as they hopefully get jobs and rise in the industry.
“We have made significant progress and we look forward to pushing this program forward and expanding it to more students in the future,” said Edgar Aguirre, the academy’s director of talent development and inclusion. “At the end of the day, this is going to be an opportunity to guide and develop the next generation of leadership in this industry.”