The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently launched a series of virtual panels, as a part of its Academy Aperture 2025 equity and inclusion initiative, called “Academy Dialogues: It Starts with Us.”
Conversations focused on race, ethnicity, gender, history, opportunity and the art of filmmaking. These discussions explored the industry-wide systemic changes that are needed to afford greater opportunities to women and people from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities. The importance of creating a new narrative for recovery was also addressed.
Here are some of the highlights from these virtual panels on the art of filmmaking:
Academy Dialogues: “The Power of Narrative”
The first presentation in this series, “The Power of Narrative,” featured a live conversation between Academy governor Whoopi Goldberg and civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. They discussed the role of narrative storytelling in addressing racial and ethnic inequity and touched upon the lasting impact of racist tropes and harmful stereotypes in Hollywood films.
Academy Dialogues: “Native Son”
The Academy presented a conversation with Oscar®-nominated director Lee Daniels (“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”) and Oscar-winning writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”) about their personal and professional journeys navigating the film industry as Black gay men. Emil Wilbekin, media executive and founder of Native Son, a networking group for professional Black gay men, moderated the discussion.
Academy Dialogues: “Owning Our Stories”
Bird Runningwater, director of the Indigenous Program at the Sundance Institute, moderated a conversation with writers Misan Sagay (“Belle”) and Ligiah Villalobos (“Under the Same Moon”) and filmmakers Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (“The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open”) and Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”) on the role that gatekeeping at the studios and production companies has played in preventing authentic stories from being told.
Academy Dialogues: “The Erasure of Latinos in Hollywood”
Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the United States, representing 18% of the population, and yet – whether it is in front of the camera, behind the camera or in executive positions – they are largely missing from America’s storytelling. Moderated by Muñoz, this discussion explored identity, the complexity of being Latin, the legacies of colonialism, and, most importantly, solutions for inclusion. Panelists include Executive Vice President, Production, Marvel Studios Victoria Alonso, casting director Carmen Cuba (“The Martian”), director Nadia Hallgren (“Becoming”), and founder/president, American Entertainment Marketing and co-founder, LA Collab Ivette Rodriguez.
Academy Dialogues: “Documentaries Through Our Own Lens”
Although the field of talented documentarians is among the most diverse in the entertainment industry, opportunities to tell their stories continue to be a challenge for people from underrepresented racial and ethnic communities. Academy governor and Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (“The Apollo”) moderated a panel with fellow documentary directors Lisa Cortés (“All In: The Fight for Democracy”), James LeBrecht (co-directed and co-produced “Crip Camp” with Nicole Newham), Bao Nguyen (“Be Water”), and Dawn Porter (“John Lewis: Good Trouble”).
Academy Dialogues: “Color-Conscious Casting”
Historically, Hollywood casting decisions have limited the opportunities for actors of color to go beyond stereotyped characters and minor roles. Since the use of blackface in “classic” films, there remains a ripple effect in hiring practices. Elvis Mitchell, film critic and host of the KCRW radio show “The Treatment,” moderated a panel with Academy governor and director/writer Rodrigo García (“Mother and Child”), and casting directors Julia Kim (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) and Victoria Thomas (“Once upon a Time…in Hollywood”). Can a renewed creative collaboration between casting directors and filmmakers offer a tremendous opportunity to better reflect the world on screen as it truly is today?
Academy Dialogues: “ICON MANN: We Are the Culture”
This dialogue focused on The Academy’s Black membership and the challenges of being successful in a system that was designed to be exclusionary. Actor Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”), filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Old Guard”), and Oscar-winning filmmaker T.J. Martin (“LA92”), will discuss how Black artists break through barriers and truly realize the power and meaning behind the saying, “We are the culture. Nothing moves without us.” Moderated by Shawn Finnie, Associate Director of Member Relations and Outreach.
Academy Dialogues: “ How Would Gender Parity Change Hollywood?”
Anita Hill (“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power”), chair of the Hollywood Commission, and Professor at Brandeis University, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, moderated this conversation with Oscar-winning actor Geena Davis (“A League of Their Own”), award-winning filmmaker Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”), and Academy governor Laura Karpman about their personal journey to becoming agents of change. By founding organizations that collect information and bring networks of women together, they have brought attention to glaring issues of inequality impacting women. In their discussion, they explored how women of all ages see themselves depicted in the far-reaching world of movies, and how to bring more role models on screen and behind the camera.
Academy Dialogues: “Owning Your Brand”
Academy governor and producer, DeVon Franklin (“Breakthrough”), producer Debra Martin Chase (“Harriet”) and Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List, discussed their journey of finding success outside of the traditional Hollywood system. What is the importance of having a vision, investing in yourself, and building a business brand by taking control to tell new and authentic stories?
Academy Dialogues: Broadening the Aperture of Excellence
The final episode in the series, “Academy Dialogues: Broadening the Aperture of Excellence,” featured a conversation with Oscar®-nominated filmmaker, founder of ARRAY and Academy governor Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) and filmmakers Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”) and Euzhan Palcy (“Sugar Cane Alley”) examining whether there is an objective form of measurement in the arts and how the Hollywood system can broaden its aperture to appreciate storytelling from the world views of different ethnic and racial communities.
To watch other virtual panels about the art of filmmaking in this series, visit the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences YouTube channel.