On Saturday the topic of “power” in the industry took center stage at the “It’s a Power Play” panel at the ATX Television Festival.
With the current #MeToo movement and the push for inclusive voices to be heard on television, Jessica Rhoades (executive producer, Sharp Objects), Salim Akil (co-creator, Black Lightning), Pam Veasey (writer, CSI: NY), Mauricio Mota (executive producer, East Los High) and HBO’s SVP Programming Kathleen McCaffrey dove deep into the right and the wrong of the power dynamics that have existed in entertainment and the change and struggle surrounding it.
One hour was not enough for the panel to unpack the topic, but the panelists gave meaningful insight to their experiences in the industry as women and people of color. Strides have been made when it comes to marginalized communities in Hollywood, they says, but to achieve a level playing field, people in power need to be more open to listening to those marginalized communities.
Hollywood is not completely populated by toxic straight white men out to keep minorities under their thumb. As Akil points out, there are many good people in the industry that encourage, support, protect and nourish talent. At the same time, he has seen some who use their power in a negative way and as an “instrument of destruction.”
“I don’t think it’s an industry problem,” said the Black Lightning co-creator. “It’s a problem that people have.”
In order to shift thedynamic, the panel encouraged people to be agents of change. “You have a choice to turn around and say no,” said Akil.
Veasey points out that starts with the showrunner at top of the show. But in the industry, she realizes that people work so hard to get where they are, they want to stay there. At times, that means one might end up compromising their integrity for their job.
“The moment you hit the boards you have to choose to fight,” said Akil. “There are people who have been privileged for a long time. They have so much power — it’s almost like a bully. As soon as you decide you say “I wont let you will this power over me — when you push back — that’s when they realize they are privileged and most of them will listen to you.”
McCaffrey has seen the generation under her are willing to talk.
“Women at lower levels are calling it out,” she said. “When something feels wrong, they say it. It doesn’t fix it immediately, but it’s encouraging and inspiring. It’s going to be slow, but [change] is happening.
Akil adds that marginalized communities need to realize that they have value and “operate from that value position.” By playing in the existing power dynamics, things will stay the same. Shifting the dynamic will bring change.
Said Rhoades, “The interesting thing about power is that people who have it don’t realize they have it.” She continued, saying that change agent is recognizing that marginalized communities have power. “It takes confidence to realize the power you never had.”