By Michelle Castillo
In an effort to convince advertisers to spend more money on its prestige programming, AMC Networks is highlighting the need for diversity and inclusion on television to stand out in today’s crowded media landscape.
At the company’s second annual AMC Networks Summit — a series of panels featuring stars and creators from AMC, BBC America, IFC, and SundanceTV — it skipped sizzle reels for real discussions with its stars and creators about the issues minorities face when being cast in lead roles, the need for new voices from different perspectives, and where the boundaries in comedy should lie.
The event, which was held on Monday, acts as a preview to its annual upfront presentation, where it will preview new programming for advertisers.
“The goal of the summit was to stimulate fresh dialogue about these topics that we can continue together this year and beyond. What kinds of stories resonate the most with audiences and what conversations do they inspire? Can there be a value to viewers beyond being entertained?” Sarah Barnett, president of the entertainment networks group for AMC Networks, told Cheddar.
Sandra Oh, who is Korean Canadian, recalled not understanding which character she was auditioning for when she was reading the script for BBC America’s “Killing Eve.” The actress plays the main character Eve Polastri, who is an MI5 agent.
“Even this far in one’s career as an actor of color, or as myself, could not see myself in a leading role.... I shocked myself and felt ashamed,” Oh admitted during the event.
A survey by BBC America and the Women’s Media Center in 2018 found 10 to 19-year-old girls were significantly less likely to see themselves as confident, brave and heard compared to their male counterparts. It was more pronounced for girls of color, especially when it came to being listened to. The study also noted that many of the girls said they did not see female role models on-air. One out of three girls said they had fewer opportunities than boys to be leaders in real life.
“But when presented with female sci-fi and superheroes, girls - and particularly girls of color- were significantly more likely to feel they could achieve anything they put their mind to,” Barnett explained. “Diverse on screen representation begins with the storytellers – the writers, directors and producers. It’s not happening as quickly as some of us would like, but there are some steps being taken we should all applaud in the genre space and it’s important to do that in 2019 and in every year that follows.”
Actress Tawny Newsom who stars in IFC’s “Brockmire,” brought up the competitive issues that men in the industry are feeling because women are being given more opportunities - and why men have nothing to fear. Many also called on the need to have more rounded female and minority characters, as well as not just hiring but re-hiring women and minorities.
“Sometimes you hear the white guys in Hollywood say ‘It’s a hard time right now for white dudes,’” Newsom said at the event. “I just like to say ‘I’m not the one standing in your way. It’s the seven other white dudes in this show that already got the part, and the fact that they’re going out to me to be the plucky neighbor gal is definitely not why you don’t have a job.’”
AMC is hoping to show advertisers that it’s in touch with the social issues today’s audiences care about — and that it’s a modern media company that is evolving with the times and culture.
“We are working to develop, produce and showcase stories that don’t have the rough edges smoothed off in an attempt to be all things to all people- shows that stand out in an arresting and particularly unique way,” Barnett said. “That’s what viewers have come to expect from all of our networks and that’s what we plan to deliver moving forward.”