From The Bold Type to Good Trouble to Shadowhunters to grown-ish, Freeform prides themselves with their slate of shows that put inclusion and representation of marginalized communities on full display — and the Freeform Summit unapologetically celebrated that on Wednesday night with a series of panels that not only showcased their series but the social issues in the real world that they reflect.
With so much talk about diversity, inclusion, and representation in Hollywood, it seems that there’s a lot of lip service but not many TV studios aren’t taking much action, and if they do, it’s not fully realized and lacks authenticity. Geared towards millennial audiences — or people who just seek change in the world — Freeform makes diversity, inclusion and representation more than just buzzwords. It puts its money where its mouth is.
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The evening included four panels: “Young Adults Keep Ruining Everything”, “Be Whoever The FF You Want”, “Why Won’t You Date Me? Attraction Vs. Implicit Bias”, and “On And Off Screen, and A Stage For Everyone—What ‘The UnPageant’ Means To The Future Of Representation”. Each panel featured a mix of stars and creators frrom Freeform shows as well as activists and diverse voices outside of the network. The long list included Kenya Barris, Luka Sabbat, Francia Raisa and Diggy Simmons from grown-ish; Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Co-founder, Black Lives Matter; author and advocate Gigi Gorgeous; Joanna Johnson, Maia Mitchell, Sherry Cola, Zuri Adele, Dhruv Uday Singh, and Emma Hunton from Good Trouble; Katie Stevens and Aisha Dee from The Bold Type, TV Personality and LGBTQ Activist EJ Johnson; Model and Advocate Geena Rocero; Aubrey Joseph from Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger and a host of others. The various panels included an intersectional mix of women, members of the LGBTQ community, people of color and disabled that would definitely make the current presidential administration nervous.
The panels were very much on-brand for Freeform as they set the bar for inclusion and what the future of representation on TV looks like. Adhering to their mantra of “A Little Foward” and their new brand video spot that pulls no punches when it comes to championing identity, the summit covers all bases of diversity, showcasing their shows that give authentic stories with actors of all different shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds — and that goes for those behind the camera as well. In essence, it was Freeform’s way of saying to other networks, “You see what we’re doing? Maybe you should step your game up and do the same.”
“Everyone deserves to be seen,” said Tom Ascheim, Freeform President at the top of the summit. “Too Often our audience knows that they need to make noise to have their voices be heard.” He adds this is exactly what Freeform does and encourages “Be whomever the FF we want to be.”
Dhruv Uday Singh of Good Trouble points out that it is difficult to have conversations about these topics in a sanctioned environment and the summit gives them this opportunity to talk freely. From the misunderstanding of millennials to unapologetically being who you are to embracing what makes you different, the summit was a safe space to talk about issues affecting underrepresented voices in the margins of society and was almost a group therapy session of self-care and love. As panelists spoke of their experiences, the audience celebrated with applause, cheers and snaps because there was a strong sense of support and community. “We all have each other’s backs,” said Good Trouble star Sherry Cola. It made me think that perhaps more white cisgender hetero men should have been in the audience so that they could gain more compassion and empathy by being amongst the color. Even among the diverse panelists, there was an opportunity to broaden horizons.
Diggy Simmons of grown-ish, a hetero black man, said this was an opportunity to learn from others that aren’t like him. “It’s an opportunity to listen,” he said.
Freeform certainly has a roster of millennial actors and stories and they are, as Whitney once told us, are our future. But the stigma behind millennials is often seen as lazy, arrogant and expect everything to be handed to them. But Freeform tries to disprove that, giving these characters and actors who have a sense of direction. And through their shows, they show that they are not that different from generations before it — they just have smartphones. At the end of the day, Millennials, Baby Boomers, and Gen X’ers were all just wanting to figure life out and the best way to live it.
Kenya Barris did agree that millennials are ruining everything — but in a good way. He pointed out that sometimes things need to be ruined and torn down so that things could be rebuilt. “I look at it as the changing of the guard and it is beyond needed — it’s disruptive in a positive way,” he adds. “Freeform is leading that charge.”
During Aubrey Joseph’s panel, he said that Freeform is pushing the culture and said of the network’s diverse characters and programming: “We are going to see a lot of people who we normally don’t see. That’s what we need — more roles where people are given opportunities.” He added, “As much as we’re different there’s a lot we go through that’s similar.”
The Bold Type star Aisha Dee punctuated that sentiment saying, “We’re embracing what’s making us different and we’re broadcasting it.”
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