The School of Communication and the AU Entertainment and Media Alumni Alliance hosted a virtual event emphasizing the importance of diversity and representation in the entertainment industry on Thursday, November 12. The event, "Diversity in Entertainment: The Time Is Now," was moderated by SOC professor Russell Williams and featured AU alumnae including, actor Eddie Leavy, Allison Simmons, VP of Development for Relevé Entertainment, and Mia Van Allen, founder of The Color of Music Collective.
The Entertainment and Media Alliance aims to create a worldwide network of AU alumni working in film, music, television, theatre, and journalism. The alliance currently has over 10,000 members, who maintain a relationship with each other and with AU through volunteerism and engagement opportunities.
SOC Professor Russell Williams moderated the event. Williams has won two Academy Awards for Best Sound and worked on over 50 feature length films. Williams thanked attendees for joining the event, introduced the panel members, and encouraged attendees to submit questions for the panel to discuss. He first introduced Eddie Leavy, who graduated with a B.A. from the School of Communication and stars as Anthony on A.P. Bio on NBC, where, as Williams said, “he has already developed the most notorious side eye in the industry.” He then introduced Allison Simmons, who started out in the news business, but now works as the Vice President of Development for Relevé Entertainment, an entertainment company specializing in talent management, brand development and television/film production. Lastly, he introduced Mia Van Allen, who as Williams said, “walked across the virtual graduation stage” this May. She has already made a name for herself by founding the Color of Music Collective, an organization created to amplify the voices of people of color and LGTBQ+ individuals working in the entertainment industry.
Williams asked panelists to name one thing they wish they knew before starting a career in the industry. Simmons emphasized the importance of taking chances and going after what you want, even if you’re afraid other applicants might be more qualified. She also discussed her transition from the journalism space into entertainment development.
Leavy encouraged attendees to avoid comparing their career journey to others’, something that can prove challenging in today’s social media age. “I think when I really committed myself to the entertainment industry for the long haul and understood that it really isn't a sprint, it's a marathon, it just allowed me to forge my own path and go at my own pace,” he said.
The panelists continued to discuss a wide range of topics related to diversity and inclusion, including the growing emphasis on diversity in the entertainment industry both on-camera and off-camera.
Van Allen spoke about the importance of representation and equitable hiring practices within the music industry. “There’s still a lot more that needs to be done,” she said. “It’s great that companies are promoting more Black music executives, and hopefully in a few years we’ll see even more of it, but we’re definitely in it for the long haul.” The recent graduate went on to explain how her firsthand experience observing a lack of diversity in the industry led her to create the Color of Music Collective.
Simmons discussed her experience running a production company and spoke about the need for programming that reflects diversity and inclusion. “We have had more networks approach us about wanting to create diverse content, and I think as one of the few Black production companies that isn’t celebrity-owned, for so many people to be approaching us is really exciting,” she said. “I am fundamentally optimistic, and I do believe that for diversity, the time is now.”
For more information regarding the AU Entertainment and Media Alliance, click here.