The effort to increase diversity in American films and TV shows came to the fore on Friday at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival, when Hollywood execs spoke of pushing projects from underrepresented creators to major studios and streamers.
Sara Rastogi, executive vp production and development at Issa Rae’s Hoorae Media banner, said getting the right resources, financial and creative, into projects from new and diverse creators is key to success in changing Hollywood.
“We are passionate about using these resources in color projects. Often it’s, “Oh, we’ll do something for this song.” But that doesn’t change what the project might really need. The most important thing is how we support the creatives and give them the resources so that their project can be a success,” said Rastogi during the feature film development panel at TIFF.
Reshaping Hollywood with new movie voices is also part of the puzzle. “We really like working with individuals who really want to mix different genres together,” added Kate Oh, a development manager at Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, as following new voices from their earliest roots in the company remains a focus.
“When we watched Quinta (Brunson) on YouTube, we all knew she was talented. It’s a confirmation if those voices get anywhere and to see her get her flowers is incredible,” Oh added that Brunson found TV success with Abbott Elementary.
Both Oh and Rastogi spoke about the role film studio Universal has played in supporting projects from various creators. Rae worked with Universal on the romantic drama The photo and the comedy Small. Peele has a rich first-look movie deal with the studio, which released his Oscar-winning hit Out and follow-up actions Us And No.
Oh said the Universal deal has made Monkeypaw a breeding ground for new, diverse voices: “You really want to tell stories and use the needle for representation… It’s great to work at a company where it’s one less hill to climb, where we’re all deeply committed to this mission and we’re just trying to move forward with the studios and buyers.
Playing matchmaker is also key to setting up projects involving underrepresented talent. “We are constantly sending people on blind dates. This is a writer, we think this is the right director for this. Go eat and see what happens,” Oh stressed that chemistry is key to putting together movie projects that can get off the ground in Hollywood.
The Toronto Film Festival runs through September 17.