“In a post-Black Panther world, director Ryan Coogler is not Trojan Horsing a message inside a superhero movie,” said The Leftovers executive producer Damon Lindelof this morning at the 2018 Milken Institute Global Conference. “He is finding a way to put it all on the plate,” the Lost co-creator who is currently working on a HBO project based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s genre redefining The Watchmen comic added.
The billion-dollar blockbuster Marvel movie from the Fruitvale Station director was mentioned and alluded to frequently today as superheroes and the desire for inclusion dominated discussion.
“The great job for our culture is to invest in diversity,” asserted playwright and I Love Dick producer Sarah Gubbins at the panel hosted by CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. “It’s not because it is our time …but because it allows us an opportunity to invite the entirety of our country and our international viewers to participate in imagining experiences they don’t have,” the Ten Aker Wood writer said, laying emphasis on “experiential learning” as a path for audiences to discover more than their piece of the rock, so to speak.
Lindelof and Gubbins were joined on the broadly titled “Arts, Politics and Popular Culture” panel on the high power annual shindig’s last day by Star Trek alum and activist George Takei, and last minute addition of former Chicago PD star and The Girl Project ambassador Sophia Bush. Rarely reticent Empire co-creator Lee Daniels was scheduled to be on the panel too but pulled out late yesterday for health reasons.
Not that there wasn’t plenty of muscular talk on the stage
“How can superheroes be political?” Lindelof pondered of the world of caped and masked crusaders that have proven to be Hollywood’s box office charm in the last decade. “It is very strange that these people with these powers are saying, I’m not political,” the Lost EP pointed out, with the Chadwick Boseman led Panther as a clear exception.
“Right now we’d see Donald Trump trying to get Superman to shake his hand in the Rose Garden,” Lindelof joked of 2018 America where superheroes are real. In terms of his closely guarded Watchman adaptation, the Emmy winner teased his plane was to “create the illusion of a big tent show and if we can get them inside the tent we can show them something interesting.”
Following a sit down with scampering and retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan next door, the panel in the Beverly Hilton’s International Terrence room kicked off with a video highlighting the work and creative outlook of all of the panelists, including the absent Daniels. Long a voice for Asian Americans and more recently for LGBT rights, Takei soon afterwards captivated the crowd with his personal recollections of the discrimination and internment that Japanese Americans suffered during and after World War II. “It’s up to the artist to be a part of their time,” the star of Allegiance, which ran on Broadway and had a very successful LA life, noted, “to bring their creativity and their sensitivity to their time.”
“My sensitively is my superpower,” stressed Bush. “I think its been incredibly important to get the conversation out into the light,” the ex-Chicago PD star pronounced of the revelations and allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and economic inequity that have been unveiled in the past several months after the New York Times expose on Harvey Weinstein last October. “It’s been really uplifting for so many women who have been fighting that battle but we need to find a way to take this notion of Time’s Up that doesn’t just apply to women but to people of color too,” Bush said.
Fellow panelist Takei was accused of assaulting a male model back in the early 1980s, an allegation he made sure to strongly deny in front of the Milken crowd on Wednesday. Calling the claim “reprehensible,” Takei went on to say he would “not engage in a ‘he said, he said’ conversation.
Engaging in the wider conversation, Gubbins and Lindelof expressed shades of optimism that change is truly coming or even here.
“There is a hunger to figure out how to change things,” Gubbins told the packed room. “It feels like the industry is responding,” she declared in the context of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. “If the shows are good and made by people who know what they are doing, people will love it,” the Jill Soloway collaborator argued to those who say viewers may not be open yet to new faces and new ideas.
“Without a doubt the intention is there but the action has yet to manifest itself,” Lindelof admitted of the desire to create a bigger tent in Hollywood, on both sides of the camera. “My biggest concern about the future of our business is representation in the executive suite,” he added, in language similar to what Spike Lee has been saying for a long time. “If that starts to change, we will see a tectonic shift in media culture.”