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Oscar Talk Panels Discuss Women, Diversity in Film at Emerson LA

Students, alumni, and visitors attended Emerson College LA’s third annual Oscar Talk panels during a special two-day event on March 1 and 2 ahead of the star-studded Academy Awards.

Organized by Owen Eagan, executive-in-residence in the Department of Communication Studies, discussions focused on communication topics pertaining to the awards. The event kicked off with a Women in the Film & TV Industry panel, a frequently talked about subject surrounding this year’s awards in light of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood.

“This discussion is important because more women are doing things than ever before,” said Kymn Goldstein, chief operating officer of Allied Integrated Marketing, who moderated the event. “And we need to have a conversation about how we can take advantage of this current momentum across various areas like content, wages, and job positions.”

From left: Gina Reyes, Kymn Goldstein, Rasha Goel, Madeline Di Nonno, and Pamela Abdy '95. 

Other panelists included Pamela Abdy ’95, head of Film at Makeready; Madeline Di Nonno, chief executive officer of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Rasha Goel, an Emmy-nominated TV host and producer and entrepreneur; and Gina Reyes, director of content development at Storyhouse Entertainment and Univision.

Di Nonno, whose work at the Geena Davis Institute includes conducting research to make entertainment for children more gender diverse, spoke about the objective facts behind eradicating gender bias in the industry. She spoke of “The Scully Effect,” a phenomenon that occurred when the STEM industry saw a sudden increase in women pursuing careers in science and math after watching female doctor and FBI agent Dana Scully on Fox’s TV show, The X-Files.

“When eliminating gender bias, we must start with children,” Di Nonno said. “Media is a huge driver in social behavior amongst children. When it comes to changing content seen on screen, however, that’s an easy problem to fix. It can and does happen overnight, and we as women need to take advantage of this.”

Abdy and Goel discussed how women are benefiting from social media, as it is a large producer in diverse content. Goel stated that with the internet, more doors have been opened for women as anyone can make or publish content now. Abdy spoke about the influence of social media on the content being produced.

“I think people want to see content that reflects the way the world looks,” said Abdy. “And the world just doesn’t look like all white men. When I was a little girl, I thought I had to look like Steven Spielberg to become a director. Now, with social media, girls have lots of role models to look up to and I think the interconnectivity of these platforms is amazing.”

Staff, students, and visitors pose for a photo during Oscar Talk at Emerson LA.

Reyes discussed the responsibilities of women in the film industry. While working at Fox, she felt obliged to create a team of female filmmakers because she saw a lack of them in her office. Now, according to Reyes, many of those women have their own shows and are working on their own movies.

“I like to share my information to help other women succeed,” said the former 20th Century Fox creative executive. “We have to help each other out in order to break down barriers. That means not treating other women like competition, but treating them like fellow team members, which can be hard in the creative industry.”

At the end of the talk, Goldstein asked the panelists one final question: “If you could give a piece of advice to young women in the film and TV industry, what would it be?” The major consensus: confidence. Goel said you have to be fearless and Reyes said men need to support women in the industry, which Abdy emphasized as well.

“We need male support,” said Abdy. “We need to have men listen. If your work is good, you need to have male colleagues that are supportive of that, and I don’t think the environment in this industry has always done that. However, you need to have a strong point of view on your work in order to portray this, and you can’t stray away from your beliefs. That’s the biggest thing I learned when I left Emerson.”

From left: Owen Eagan, Kymn Goldstein, Pete Hammond, Tim Gray, Dana Bseiso Vazquez, and Lisa Taback. 

During the Oscar Buzz panel, moderated by Eagan, panelists discussed their Academy Awards predictions and shared thoughts on the ceremony. Panelists included Dana Bseiso Vazquez, vice president at The Angellotti Company; Tim Gray, awards editor and senior vice president of Variety; Pete Hammond, chief film critic and awards columnist for Deadline; Lisa Taback, an entertainment public relations and marketing consultant; and Goldstein.

The second day of panels included The Academy Awards from a European Perspective, Kaleidoscope Reviews: The Importance of Film Critics of Color, and W(h)ither the Oscars?: Business Trends in the Movie Industry featuring Bruce Nash, founder and president of Nash Information Services.

Judith Colell, professor at Blanquerna, Ramon Llull University in Barcelona and former vice president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Spain, discussed the film industry and awards from a global perspective.

Judith Colell.

Following this talk, panelists participated in a lively discussion about diversity in the entertainment industry during Kaleidoscope Reviews: The Importance of Film Critics of Color, moderated by Gil L. Robertson IV, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association. Panelists included film critic Carlos Aguilar; Carla Renata, a member of the African American Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Association; and Jocelyn “Joz” Wang, editor-in-chief and CEO of the popular collaborative online publication 8Asians. Panelists discussed issues of access, the impact of films such as Get Out and Black Panther (“It's going to change everything” said Renata), and whitewashing in the film industry.

“Next year, we’re going to come back and talk about solutions,” said Robertson at the end of the panel.

From left: Owen Eagan, Carla Renata, Jocelyn “Joz” Wang, Carlos Aguilar, and Gil L. Robertson IV. 

Raul Reis, dean of Emerson’s School of Communication, spoke proudly about the events’ outcomes.

“As always, the panels are very timely. They touch on very important issues,” said Reis. “[Panelists] spoke very eloquently and complemented each other and gave different perspectives. This event keeps getting better and better each year.”

Eagan, the face of Oscar Talk, honed in on the event’s success.

“The Oscar Talk panel discussions are primarily intended to enrich the educational experience of our students,” said Eagan. “To that end, we were thrilled to have such prestigious panelists participate in this event. Specifically, these panel discussions align with our mission of providing both scholarship and practical skills for our students. They also help distinguish our program as a leader in the field.”

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