On a weekend when A Medea Halloween is a serious fright to the Da Vinci super-franchise, the profitability of diversity was an all but inevitable topic of conversation at the Produced By New York conference today. To put it another way: “There’s gold in them thar hills,” as Hidden Figures producer Donna Gigliotti put it.
For an afternoon Producers Masterclass session, all but one of the five movies represented on the panel could be called diverse by any standard, and even the outlier – Sully – focused on, as moderator Dave Karger pointed out – “a 60-year-old white-haired guy.” (Besides Hidden Figures and Sully, the other films represented on the panel by producers, a production designer, a screenwriter and a composer were Loving, 20th Century Women and Lion).
Gigliotti (Shakespeare in Love) said she feels “a huge responsibility” to bringing diversity to the screen. “It is, frankly, the only thing that interests me.” She suggested that reconciling her creative impulses with financial necessity isn’t as difficult as conventional wisdom has it: Insisting that there is money in diversity, Gigliotti said, “I love Tom Hanks but he is getting his ass whooped by Medea this week.”
Producer Peter Saraf, whose Loving tells the real-life story of the interracial couple who took their case to the Supreme Court, said diversity is “essential and important and it is commercial. And it’s not as challenging as people think it is. These are self fulfilling prophecies when we say, ‘Well, the foreign sales’ and, ‘Well, it just won’t work.'”
Answering a question about the Oscars So White controversy, Wynn Thomas, an African American production designer on Hidden Figures (the film tells the stories of black women working for NASA in the 1960s), said, “I thought the whole thing was misdirected. If you want there to be product, you have to hire the people, and not just black people but all people of color, and put them in positions of power. It is an employment issue. Where the system is failing is in still not hiring people of color to the positions of power to greenlight movies.”
Thomas also insisted that audiences have important roles to play. “It’s important to go see the movies. No one went to see Birth of a Nation, and this is tragic. What Hollywood listens to is where people spend their money. If you don’t go see everything, then you can’t complain.”
Also on today’s panel: producer Sarah Green (Loving); producer Anne Carey and casting director Laura Rosenthal (20th Century Woman); producer Iain Canning and composer Volker Bertelmann (Lion); and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki and producer Allyn Stewart (Sully).