Working in Hollywood When You’re Not White: Three Players Reveal All

“The system works to my disadvantage for no other reason than that I am a person of color.” So says ‘Dear White People’ writer-director Justin Simien, who, along with veteran producer Stephanie Allain and ‘Master of None’ showrunner Alan Yang, let THR in on their heartfelt, sometimes funny dialogue (and why the word “minority” is “the worst word”).

This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

The topic America never wants to discuss is now all anyone in Hollywood can talk about. Should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences shoulder the blame for a field of white nominees in the acting categories, or is that merely a symptom of a more complex problem that touches almost every facet of the filmmaking process — from the agents pigeonholing their clients to executives not championing work by people of color to awards tastemakers ignoring diverse voices in favor of familiar ones? To shine a light on these issues and more, THR invited three Hollywood players to have a conversation on Saturday, Jan. 23 — Stephanie Allain, 57, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, producer of 2005’s Hustle & Flow and, when she was an executive at Columbia, a champion of John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood (1991); Justin Simien, 32, the former publicist who wrote, directed and produced 2014’s Sundance award-winning Dear White People; and Alan Yang, 33, who cut his teeth on Parks and Recreation before co-creating and executive producing the Aziz Ansari-starring series Master of None for Netflix. “The Academy is the endgame,” says Allain, but “the problem is totally systemic throughout Hollywood.”

Stephanie, you were the Columbia executive who shepherded Boyz n the Hood. How difficult would it be to make that film today?

STEPHANIE ALLAIN The script was amazing, and content, especially literary content, always rises to the top. What was interesting about that was, in the early ’90s, we were suffering from so many losses in South Central, and the script really tapped into it in a commercial and personal way. Luckily, there’s not a lot of drive-bys going on right now. (Laughter.)

ALAN YANG It’s topical, it’s topical.

JUSTIN SIMIEN It would be so hard to make Boyz n the Hood or Do the Right Thing at a studio. I’m not knocking independent film, but it is different when you just make it on your own, take it to Sundance …

ALLAIN This is why it’s so important to have support at the studio level. And you could see, with John [Singleton] and Robert Rodriguez and others, when you have an opportunity to be inside the system, you get the support in marketing, distribution. It’s a different offering than when you’re trying to make important or culturally sensitive work from the outside. read moresplashd-racismb


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