Donna Langley, the chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment, invoked the late director John Singleton today in her commencement speech for the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Class of 2019, reminding the audience to “touch what is human” in all audiences.
Langley, who joined the USC School of Cinematic Arts Board of Councilors in February, oversees global production, marketing and distribution for Universal Pictures, Universal Pictures International, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Focus Features and DreamWorks Animation.
She shared with the young graduates the secrets of Hollywood and filmmaking success.
“Beyond creative talent, what I also look for is people who believe that no job is too big or too small for them,” Langley said, adding that filmmaking is “a team sport. And you want to be a utility player. Put another way: Make yourself valuable. Even Indispensable.”
Although Langley cited some numbers that indicated women have a ways to go – she noted that a USC Annenberg School study found that, between 2007 and 2017, “Only 30 percent of all roles in that time were filled by female speaking-characters. And out of more than a thousand directors over that decade, just 4 percent were women.”
However, she also noted, “believe me when I say that we have seen some progress. We are seeing more stories and storytellers that represent the full breadth of the human experience.”
Langley asked that graduates who get in a position to change things “don’t just hire people who look, sound and create like you do. The point of diversity isn’t to check a box—it’s to create more opportunities and to tell stories that reflect the world around us.”
At Universal, Langley championed films like Straight Outta Compton, Get Out, Pitch Perfect and Girls’ Trip. “It’s because I know that they aren’t just niche movies for limited audiences. I saw in them the potential to move people of all backgrounds, from all over the world – to make us laugh and cry in the same moments, and to ultimately bring us together,” she said.
Director John Singleton was successful because he saw the same vision. Quoting Singleton, she said he once noted, “Boyz N The Hood wasn’t made for everybody. It was made for a young black audience that buys hip-hop records. But I knew that if I got as universal as possible, it would cross over.”
Langley added, “And, of course, he was right.”
“No matter what field you’re going into – production, management, game design, editing, animation – no matter what you end up doing, there is always a way to create something that touches what is universal, what is human, in all of us. To make a difference.”