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Pop Culture Collaborative

Tracy Van Slyke and Bridgit Antoinette EvansSource, creators of the Pop Culture Collaborative. (Photo courtesy of PCC)

The world of Hollywood has been through a lot of changes, changes that are set to impact the industry as a whole forever – something that many, especially minorities, have been advocating for several decades. Whether it’s about women’s empowerment and equal pay or striving to get the talent of more people of color heard, Hollywood needed a shake-up and it looks like this time the changes will be everlasting.

One entertainment initiative is putting in the hard work to ensure that Hollywood is an all-inclusive place to bolster new talents and nurture the visions and dreams of creatives from all over. The group is called, Pop Culture Collaborative, a $25 million philanthropic resource, which is essentially working to change the world of pop culture and entertainment/Hollywood from the inside, out. Additionally, they’re giving near-immediate, rapid response grants in an attempt to combat white nationalism and white supremacy narratives to advance social justice for marginalized groups (especially African-Americans, Muslims, and immigrants). They’re also pushing to get authentic stories from these groups picked up by showrunners for TV/movies.

The story of the PCC’s inception is a powerful yet untold one about a group of women of color who worked at traditional philanthropic/nonprofit foundations and took a risk by insisting that they could band together to create a collaborative effort that would fight for a shift in entertainment storytelling to mass audiences.

HelloBeautiful got the opportunity to speak with project co-founders Bridgit Antoinette Evans and Tracy Van Slyke, to discuss what propelled them to start PCC, how they are helping to shift how mass audiences understand Hollywood’s past, grasp the present and imagine an inclusive future.

Hello Beautiful: When did you both know you wanted to work together?

Bridgit Antoinette Evans: Tracy and I came to know each other through our work in the culture change, media, and social justice space for many years. As a result, we were both invited to lead a convening for the culture change field hosted by philanthropic leaders at the Ford Foundation in 2014. What started out as a twenty-five person meeting, quickly grew into a convening for 75 people from across the arts, social justice, and entertainment spaces who came together to discuss some key recommendations for this type of work. The field of “culture change” wasn’t something that was readily studied or understood, so Tracy and I took a number of recommendations from this convening and began to deepen relationships in the culture change field by hosting dinners and other gatherings to bring leaders in this space together to decide how we could tackle major problems in our society, and how we could all collectively affect real change. At the same time, a number of major philanthropists were beginning to organize themselves around the need to create a coordinated space for grant-making, learning, and support for deserving projects.

Tracy Van Slyke: There was one additional step before that! Bridgit and I wanted to see what the biggest knowledge gaps around pop culture and social change were. For example, why weren’t more people connecting these two industries more intentionally? Bridgit had an amazing fellowship at the Nathan Cummings Foundation where we were able to seed our new podcast called WONDERLAND where we host conversations between social justice leaders and pop culture innovators to explore how stories impact our brains, how TV writer’s rooms are formed, and the work of organizing inside the entertainment industry. We not only love being co-hosts but also partners in this amazing new work together.

HB: Inclusion and diversity are big topics in Hollywood right now, how do you think Pop Culture Collaborative will benefit from it?

Bridgit: It is probably more helpful to share with you and Hello Beautiful readers how Pop Culture Collaborative works in the spaces around inclusion and diversity in Hollywood. We all want to create change. The Collaborative is really interested in pushing beyond inclusion to look at how to restore creative agency, power and justice to storytellers of color. They need to have the resources to not only develop their own stories, and but also produce and distribute their work on their own terms.

What we have heard from writers and showrunners, and those in front of the camera as well, is that justice looks like them being able to design their creative work spaces themselves. People of color and formerly marginalized voices are also looking to own their own content, which means we need to create new ways of financing content, new business agreements, and even new union rules that reflect this ‘nothing about us, without us’ spirit of independence in the industry.

When we talk about the idea of “inclusion,” it fundamentally assumes there is a room that belongs to one group of people, and if you are lucky enough or have the right connections, then maybe some “diverse” people may be invited in. But this also assumes that there are some people who inherently belong in that room in the first place and others who don’t—who need an invitation. What if we could move as an industry to a place where the walls of these rooms are broken down and these creative spaces are designed anew by content creators themselves? We see this happening with Ava Duvernay, who insisted on hiring other women directors for Queen Sugar at a time when the industry rarely affords women the chance to helm TV pilots and series.

Tracy: There is so much more ability and creative capacity to tell the really powerful, authentic stories that millions of people across the country are craving and searching for. These stories will help catalyze new beliefs and understanding about how we all fit together in this world and spark the imagination about the new world we want to fight for. Pop Culture Collaborative is doing this through grants to different artists. For example, we awarded a grant to Unleashing Giants Studios to map the full season for their award-winning pilot Up North that offers a true picture of what it is like inside our prison systems in America, and we have another project where social justice organizations and television writers came together to design a new television writer’s room. We also provided Issa Rae and her producing partner Deniese Davis a grant for their work creating a pipeline for new women artists of color to enter into and have both creative power and a long-lasting career inside the entertainment industry.

HB: Ideally, what types of stories would you like to tell? 

Tracy: At the Collaborative, we think one of the most powerful stories our field can tell together—and that artists are best positioned to drive—are stories about our past. There are a lot of harmful stories out there, and others in the form of television shows and films that are trying to do it right. Shows like Misha Green’s Underground, which only had a short life, but was incredibly effective at rewriting the narrative about this country’s history of slavery. From the intimate stories of families like This is Us to One Day at a Time, to programs getting into issues within the current political landscape, stories can also help us to better understand our present world.

HB: What narratives do you want to shine a light on?

Bridgit: Before coming on staff at Pop Culture Collaborative, we convened some of the top cultural strategists in America because we wanted to know what they felt were the storytelling opportunities that could help change the cultural climate in this country. One insight that rose to the top was the idea that America desperately lacks a big story about where we are headed as a country and what our future looks like. Equally important, we all agreed that our country needs a story that feels authentic to everyone, one that learns from our past while also striving towards a different set of core values for this country.  Values that move us forward, like pluralism, equity, and generosity. Everyone present believed that artists and storytellers have a role to play in helping the American public believe that a just future is possible. Storytellers can make this vision of the future feel real and palpable through films, television shows and pop culture. This continues to be a role that we see the Collaborative playing: supporting storytellers to create a more visionary idea of America’s future.

HB: Who are some of your heroes within the entertainment industry?

Bridgit + Tracy: We are fans of Issa Rae, Lena Waithe and Ava Duvernay. Also, we think what social movement leaders like Tarana Burke, Ai-Jen Poo, Monica Ramirez, Cristina Jimenez, and what others have been able to do in partnering with Hollywood stars and entertainment leaders have been not only impressive, it has truly changed the conversation we are having in this country around sexual harassment, women’s rights, race, and more. We love the work coming out of #TimesUp, the women of color who ‘spoke’ of that movement, and the 50/50by2020 initiative organized by Jill Soloway. Everyone should keep an eye on all of these cultural organizers in the entertainment industry, as they are working to create real change in Hollywood from the inside out.

Pop Culture Collaborative

The Wonderland Podcast, created by the Pop Culture Collaborative. (Source: Courtesy of PCC)

HB: Do you think that with the shifting tide in Hollywood, there will continue to be a need for projects like Pop Culture Collaborative?

Tracy: People within the industry would argue there’s a long way to go in achieving the true equity and ability to tell just and authentic stories that reflect who we really are as a nation. Culture change takes time, resources, and public support, and we are so encouraged by the conversations being had and the movements afoot to accelerate the impact of artists, social justice advocates, culture change strategists, tech innovators, academics and more to affect change through entertainment and narratives in mass media.

Bridgit: At Pop Culture Collaborative, we work to raise public consciousness, spark debates, and shift popular narratives on a grand scale, and we want people to be working on these types of efforts for many years to come.

HB: What can we look forward to from Pop Culture Collaborative for the rest of 2018?

Bridgit: As we move into the second half of this year, we’re going to continue cultivating the high-impact entertainment industry, philanthropy, and social justice partnerships we’ve been working on so that new, authentic, and engaging stories can be brought to the masses. We’ll have some exciting new grantees to announce this summer, and are also excited to share updates, results, and new research from our current grantees who are doing amazing things, from changing the culture of TV writer’s rooms to discovering the ‘next gen’ ideas about fandoms and immersive story worlds.

Tracy: Also, be on the lookout for the release of a report from our incredible senior fellows Maytha Alhassen, who will be publicly highlighting something we don’t hear about very often — the history of stereotypes, tropes, and traps that have distorted public perception of Muslim, Arab and South Asian people in America. It should shed light on more important issues we all need to be paying attention to.

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Hollywood Has A Major Diversity Problem; These Women Are Securing Millions Of Dollars To Fix It was originally published on hellobeautiful.com

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