Three studios and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences laid off or lost top diversity execs in the past 10 days, which gives the impression that the industry is placing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on the back-burner.
The drive for diversity that picked up prominence with 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement seems to have run its course after just three years.
Were these roles merely lip service all along? As “A Black Lady Sketch Show” actress Yvette Nicole Brown tweeted, “I guess all those black boxes after George Floyd was murdered were for nothing,” referencing 2020’s social media blackout that was supposed to be in support of the BLM movement.
Disney’s chief diversity officer and senior vice president Latondra Newton, a six-year veteran, was the first of the four to go. On June 20, the company said that Newton was leaving to pursue “other endeavors.” Predictably, her exit was celebrated by a faction of people who blamed her for “The Little Mermaid’s “woke” casting of Black actress and singer Halle Bailey.
Her departure was followed by Wednesday’s announcement that Vernā Myers, Netflix’s head of inclusion strategy, will step down from the role in September. She was the first person to serve in the role, which she held for five years. She will remain as an advisor to Netflix as she focuses her attention to her consulting company, The Vernā Myers Company.
Friday — the day after the Supreme Court struck down Affirmative Action in education — brought a double departure with Warner Bros. Discovery ousting SVP of diversity, equity and inclusion Karen Horne, and the Academy parting ways with EVP of Impact and Inclusion Jeanell English. Horne joined WBD in March 2020, while English’s role was created by Academy CEO Bill Kramer in July 2022.
“S*W*A*T” writer Brian Margolis tweeted on Horne’s departure, “Let me be clear: if your plan is to restructure your diversity initiatives by removing Karen Horne, your plan is to make everything exponentially worse. F–k [WBD CEO David Zaslav].”
At TheWrap’s Power Women’s Summit in December, Hartbeat CEO Thai Randolph predicted that DEI roles were vulnerable, saying that they were on the “chopping block” if leaders don’t make it a “business imperative.”
Said Randolph, “If you do not look at building inclusive organizations as critical to the success, the profitability, the scaling of your company and its objectives, those are the things that that are greatly at risk.”
During the panel, Amazon Studios Head of Gobal DEI Latasha Gillespie said the industry might be experiencing what she termed “diversity fatigue.”
Randolph added, “My hope is that we don’t lose some of the ground that we gained because the pandemic really served as a bit of a catalyst and a mirror. But those things, as we know, can be easily undone.”
Myers, Horne and English didn’t immediately respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment. We were unable to reach Newton.