What Kamala Harris Means for Diversity and Inclusion in Hollywood

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What Kamala Harris Means for Diversity and Inclusion in Hollywood

“She isn’t just one thing; she’s so many things. It’s a narrative that you are finding in Hollywood,” says Darnell Brisco of BOND creative marketing agency

In the wake of a tumultuous presidential election, some in the entertainment industry are looking to Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris in the White House to help change the diversity landscape in Hollywood. The first female vice president, they hope, may spark an increase in employment for women both in front of and behind the camera.

Others see the election of a biracial woman with a multicultural family – whose husband is choosing to quit his job to support his wife’s career – as an additional incentive for Hollywood to continue to redefine what diversity means on and off screen.

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Harris, a California Democrat, is married to Doug Emhoff, an attorney with the Century City office of DLA Piper. Emhoff has said he will leave the law firm by inauguration day to avoid any conflicts of interest with clients. But Harris has plenty of powerful L.A. contacts in her own right, particularly in Hollywood.

Entertainment industry watchers in recent days have expressed hopes that the Biden-Harris administration would benefit Hollywood by fostering more productive relationships with China and Big Tech than existed under Trump-Pence.  Some also are predicting a different sort of positive effect specifically attributable to Harris.

Chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment Dana Walden was among the Hollywood heavyweights who spearheaded a virtual fundraiser for Harris along with Ryan Murphy, Chrisette Hudlin and Laura Holden, co-hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg and JJ Abrams.

Walden said Harris’ historic position as the first female vice president will have a lasting effect on young women that goes far beyond the Hollywood community. “Kamala and I have a mutual best friend, and we’ve been close friends for 27 years. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of her upcoming role as the Vice President, especially for young women,” Walden told TheWrap. “As the mother of two young women, I have been extremely lucky that Kamala has been a role model for my girls for a very long time. She has spent her entire career giving a voice to the voiceless and she’s a tireless champion for people who have been unable to defend themselves. She cares about people — all people — and she’s brilliant and compassionate, which is exactly what this country needs right now.”

Los Angeles writer Susan Rubin, a Ms. Magazine contributor and longtime activist in Hollywood women’s political community, predicts Harris will connect Hollywood and Washington by being equally comfortable with both worlds.

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“She knows how to walk right to the front of the room, whether it’s Hollywood or D.C.,” Rubin said. “She is very comfortable in rooms of power because she has plenty of her own and carries it with her.”

Darnell Brisco, head of growth for L.A.’s BOND creative marketing agency, said Harris’ hyphenate presence as a female and biracial vice president representing both the Black and Asian communities may encourage an ongoing change in the onscreen narrative to better reflect the complexity of racial and gender identity.

The BOND agency usually handles major entertainment industry campaigns across platforms, including work for the HBO series “Game of Thrones” and “Lovecraft Country, ” the NBA 2K basketball video game franchise and many others. During the Biden-Harris campaign, however, the agency sought to play a role in the political process. BOND contributed key artwork for the Biden/Harris “All of Us. United” campaign, which included the Kamala Harris “For the People” image that was shared by Hillary Clinton on her Instagram ahead of the debate.

(Courtesy of BOND)

“She isn’t just one thing: She’s so many things. It’s a narrative that you are finding in Hollywood,” Brisco told TheWrap. “For me, I think it’s encouraging because of the momentum it contributes towards redefining archetypes and norms. I think the truth is there are so many layered and varied stories that need to be told about female leaders, and I think you often times see life imitate art and art imitate life.”

Brisco added that Harris may continue to broaden the definition of diversity in Hollywood productions, further normalizing multiracial and multicultural characters in the story line.

“The movement toward representation in Hollywood has been so important, but I think sometimes what is lost in that is there is not one singular box or definable characteristic for any given nationality or gender or race or background,” he said. “Diversity is just that. The fact that it is hard for a newscaster to mention all of the things that Kamala Harris is a step in the right direction.”

A recent UCLA study on Hollywood diversity suggests that Hollywood is finally getting the message that diversity sells. The study, released in 2020, concludes that while women and minorities remain underrepresented at the executive (read: decision-making) level, “the numbers of acting jobs for women and people of color are getting closer to being proportionate with the U.S. population overall.”

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, an attorney, author and human rights activist, is a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates along with her husband Cliff Gilbert-Lurie, a senior partner with Century City-based Ziffren Brittenham, a law firm specializing in entertainment, sports and intellectual property. Leslie Gilbert-Lurie describes herself as a friend of Harris, whom she met when Harris was running for California attorney general, a position Harris held from 2010 to 2016 before being elected to the U.S. Senate.

Gilbert-Lurie said “it’s about time” a woman like Harris takes the national stage in the White House.

“Being a woman first and foremost has that appeal to many of us in Hollywood,” Gilbert-Lurie said. That Harris is biracial and married to a Jewish man, and whose step kids call her “Momala,” also expands her significance as a symbol of an expanded concept of diversity, she added.

“It’s exciting to have different points of view in Washington altogether. I think we get at better solutions and have better conversations the more we get a diverse mix of people there,” Gilbert-Lurie said.  “And I think many people in Hollywood feel the same way.”

Diane Haithman