All-white diversity panels have become somewhat of a meme that mocks cluelessness across multiple industries, but for Disney Television Studios, the selection of panelists for its Winter TCA panel on inclusion was deliberate.
“You might notice the other panelists joining us today are white,” said Walt Disney Television head of Creative Talent Development & Inclusion Tim McNeal at the outset of the Thursday session, in which he and CTDI director DMA were the only Black participants. “We want to move the conversation from what talent is consistently asked, to what our leaders must do differently to create real impact.”
DMA put it even more bluntly. “Your Black colleagues are tired,” she said. “People of color and women have been assigned to be the flagbearers of this conversation, and we deeply believe that is not the responsibility of the marginalized in this community. We put this panel together to say that these are the folks with the agency, opportunity and accountability, and to make sure they are instrumental to the conversation.”
This framing was made clear with the title of the panel, “Inclusion is Not a Spectator Sport.” “It costs us nothing to push,” said The Rookie‘s Alexi Hawley of himself and fellow white male showrunners. “I’ve heard stories of writers of color who have tried to push on parity, and they get pushback. I don’t. If I don’t do the work, that’s on me.”
“It doesn’t cost you anything to engage, or not to engage,” DMA agreed. “What we’re learning into is shining a light on the people who’ve been allowed to watch it all happen. Could [Disney TV’s efforts] be a model for other people who’ve been able to watch their Black, brown, female, LGBTQIA colleagues do all this work while they go about their day?”
The producers and execs on the panel acknowledged that taking responsibility puts a lot of traditional gatekeepers on unfamiliar terrain.