Raising Our Voices: Setting Hollywood’s Inclusion Agenda

Celebrating Diversity, Winning, Next Steps at the ‘Raising Our Voices’ Event

THR’s inaugural event, presented by Walmart and centered on the state of Hollywood’s diversity, equity and inclusion movement, took place on Wednesday at The Maybourne Beverly Hills Hotel.


“I’m so grateful that I’m not alone any longer,” CODA star and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin told the audience at The Hollywood Reporter‘s inaugural Raising Our Voices: Setting Hollywood’s Inclusion Agenda lunch Wednesday.

Introduced by her CODA co-star, Troy Katsur — who last month became the second deaf Oscar winner ever following Matlin’s historic win 35 years ago — Matlin delivered the keynote address at the event, which also featured appearances by Daniel Durant, Geena Davis, Wilmer Valderrama, Natalie Morales and Gloria Calderón Kellett.

The event, presented by Walmart, brought together some of the industry’s most influential and inspiring executives, storytellers and thought-leaders for a series of discussions on the state and future of Hollywood’s diversity, equity and inclusion movement.


Troy Kotsur (L) and Marlee Matlin attend the 2021 Gotham Awards Presented By The Gotham Film & Media Institute at Cipriani Wall Street on November 29, 2021 in New York City.

THR editorial director Nekesa Mumbi Moody kicked off the luncheon, held at The Maybourne Beverly Hills Hotel, alongside activist and producer Bird Runningwater and IllumiNative president and CEO Crystal Echo Hawk.

After welcoming the room, Runningwater paid respects to the “Tongva People, who are the ancestral custodians of the land that we are gathered on today” and acknowledged the “Chumash and Tataviam Tribes who are also the traditional keepers of the land out on the coast and in the valley, respectively; lands where many of our entertainment community live and work.” Echo Hawk added that L.A. County alone has the highest population of Native peoples in the United States.

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Davis, founder of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, followed up the introduction with her own remarks, explaining how she began her fight for onscreen female representation after watching children’s shows when her daughter was young and was stunned to see the imbalance of male versus female characters.

“It was studying children’s and animated content that first led me to ask: ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we, from the very beginning, showing that boys are more important than girls?’” Davis remembered. “I didn’t intend to be a visionary, but I couldn’t find anyone else in the industry who saw what I was seeing.”

After explaining the extensive data her institute has complied, Davis added, “While we have seen the number of female characters in lead roles in film and TV increase, and some very good movement toward more content featuring or created by people of color, members of other underrepresented groups are by no means reflective of our real-world population,” including people with a disability and behind the camera. “More space needs to be created in film and television for these voices,” she said, adding that issues in onscreen representation can be fixed overnight.


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Gloria Calderón Kellett GETTY IMAGES










Walmart chief creative officer Jean Batthany also took the stage to talk about the company’s commitment to equity; THR senior editor of diversity and inclusion Rebecca Sun was then joined by Dr. Yalda Uhls, assistant adjunct professor and founder of UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers, to break down diversity, equity and inclusion by the numbers.

Uhls group found that movies can lose up to 18 percent to 82 percent of their production costs if they don’t have Authentically Inclusive Representation, adding up to a possible $130 million, and called on the industry to “truly embrace what the audience wants, make sure that we all feel seen,” as well as allowing execs to take risks and follow their diverse passion projects.

“The power of authentic and inclusive storytelling is powerful, and our research shows it will impact the bottom line,” she added. “No more excuses.”

Valderrama; Calderón Kellett; Alex Schmider, producer and GLAAD director of transgender representation; Latasha Gillespie, head of global diversity, equity and inclusion at Amazon Studios, Prime Video and Freevee; Dr. Sharoni Little, head of global inclusion strategy at CAA; and Samata Narra, senior vp of equity and inclusion, content strategy at Warner Bros Discovery then took part in a panel on the state of inclusion in Hollywood, moderated by journalist Stacey Wilson Hunt.

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Top row, left to right: Samata Narra, Alex Schmider and Wilmer Valderrama. Bottom row, left to right: Latasha Gillespie, Gloria Calderón Kellett and and Dr. Sharoni Little STEFANIE KEENAN/GETTY IMAGES FOR THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

As each panelist broke down their experiences with industry diversity and the path forward they each saw, Valderrama said: “I think the message is it’s OK to not know how to do something and allow us to help you. Ultimately we come full circle to a conversation where for the first time, we’re being brought into the table to collaborate. The secret to the revolution of content is going to come in the form of a creative collaboration.”

One Day at a Time and With Love showrunner Calderón Kellett recalled her early days as a writer when she was the only woman and the only person of color, noting that things have gotten better.