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Producer: 'Bridgerton' success shows why diversity 'is good business' in Hollywood

·4 min read

Hollywood's diversity issues have plagued the industry for decades — but the entertainment mecca took several decisive actions to address its racial blind spots last year.

In the days and months that followed George Floyd's killing, “The Bachelor” cast its first black male lead, while Paramount Network cancelled the long-time reality TV show “Cops” (VIAC). Meanwhile, HBO Max (T) temporarily removed (the re-added with disclaimers) the 1939 Civil War epic “Gone with the Wind” from its content library. 

The social unrest following Floyd's death brought diversity and social justice "to the forefront of everyone's consciousness," James Lopez, film producer and president of Will Packer Productions, told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.

Lopez's company produced Black-led hits "Think Like A Man" and "Girls Trip." He revealed that he's noticed a change in Hollywood's collective consciousness — and that "things are changing in terms of the corporate culture, and the types of content that a lot of the distributors, studios and streamers are wanting."

A prime example of that shift lies in "Bridgerton" — Netflix's (NFLX) breakout success that features a mixed-race cast, including a Black lead.

'The audience is always ahead'

Netflix's breakout series
Netflix's breakout series "Bridgerton" emerged as one of the most successful shows amid the pandemic (Courtesy: Netflix)

To date, “Bridgerton” is Netflix’s most-watched series premiere, with 63 million households projected to have seen at least a portion of the show in its first four weeks, according to the company. (Caveat: Netflix counts a ‘viewer’ as someone who watches at least 2 minutes of a piece of content.)

"The audiences are always ahead," Lopez said, but cautioned against the notion that the money will simply follow. 

"Until there is a financial structure in place where creatives have the resources to put forth the projects that they want without having to go through a traditional studio system, you're always gonna have that fight and you're always gonna have those gatekeepers that deem what is worthy and what isn't," Lopez explained. 

Hollywood loses out on $10 billon annually due to a lack of diversity, a recent McKinsey study found. In addition, the report went on to explain that studio producers often look at Black content as "Wakanda or poverty, with no in between.”

Still, Lopez sees some optimism as Hollywood's recent changes begin to take hold. 

"I do have hope that the gatekeepers are starting to see that the color that matters most is money. And if you have a great plan in terms of diversity, if you have diversity of thought, diversity in hiring practices and diversity in content — then that's just good business," he continued. 

"It's been proven over and over and 'Bridgerton' is just the most recent example of that," he added. 

Golden Globes 'reckoning'

The Golden Globes, under fire for months, was dealt a fresh blow recently as WarnerMedia (T) joined Netflix, Amazon (AMZN) and other big production powerhouses in boycotting the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the nonprofit which consists of 86 foreign journalists who dole out one of Hollywood's most coveted awards.

A scathing L.A. Times exposé on the HFPA found evidence of alleged corruption, bullying, and self-dealing. The investigation also noted that not one HFPA member is Black.

As the backlash intensified, NBC (CMCSA) cancelled next year's telecast, saying in a statement that "change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right."

For his part, Lopez cited the need for "accountability" at the organization, and the projects that get considered. He said that predominantly non-white casts seem to draw "less interest from the voting body." 

This past year, critics took issue with the fact that Darren Star's comedy, "Emily in Paris," received a Globe nomination while the critically acclaimed "I May Destroy You" was ignored. 

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) headquarters in West Hollywood, California. The HFPA has been under intense scrutiny after laying out a long-overdue inclusion and overhaul proposal that many say is just too little, too late.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) headquarters in West Hollywood, California. The HFPA has been under intense scrutiny after laying out a long-overdue inclusion and overhaul proposal that many say is just too little, too late.

"That organization needs to be changed from the top down," Lopez told Yahoo Finance. 

"If they come back with better practices, then you'll see the industry welcome them back in. But they're having their reckoning, and I'm pretty sure that there are other organizations out there that may go through the same thing," he added. 

Overall, the producer said that "a lot of the way the business of entertainment has been operating over the past decades is antiquated."

"It's about time for some of these things to change...I think as an industry we will be better for it," he concluded. 

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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