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Taraji P. Henson, Gina Prince-Bythewood, DeVon Franklin, and More Lend Their Voices to Academy’s New Virtual Series on Race, Gender, and History

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has introduced a series of virtual conversations featuring a range of recognizable faces that include Whoopi Goldberg, Taraji P. Henson, DeVon Franklin, and Gina Prince-Bythewood. The panels will address various topics linked to systemic racism and sexism facing the entertainment industry and what can be done to enact lasting, positive change.

Begun on Aug. 20, the series titled “Academy Dialogues: It Starts with Us,” will “focus on the industry-wide systemic changes that are needed to afford greater opportunities to women and people from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities and to create a new narrative for recovery.” Subjects to be covered include race, ethnicity, gender, history, opportunity, and the art of filmmaking. The videos will be made available on the organization’s YouTube page.

(From left) Taraji P. Henson, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and DeVon Franklin have joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “Academy Dialogues: It Starts with Us” series. (Photo: @tarajiphenson/Instagram, @gpbmadeit/Instagram, @devonfranklin/Instagram)

The conversation series is part of the Academy Aperture 2025 equity and inclusion initiative, which seeks to expand representation and inclusion within the industry.

“With our ‘Academy Dialogues’ series, the Academy is creating a space for our members — and the public — to talk about inclusion in a way that is timely, relevant and allows for a meaningful exchange on how to bring systemic change to Hollywood,” Executive Vice President of Member Relations and Awards Lorenza Muñoz said in a press release.  “These conversations may be uncomfortable for some, but they are necessary to broaden the stories that are getting told and increase opportunities for those who have been excluded.”

The first of the series of 10 conversations kicked off between Goldberg and civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, moderated by Shawn Finnie, the Academy’s Associate Director of Member Relations and Outreach, about “The Power of Narrative.”

During their conversation, which originally took place on July 21, the two discussed how narrative storytelling can make an impact on addressing racial and ethnic inequity. “Whenever I watched television as a kid, there were narratives that were there and they’re in me, you know, because that’s what you saw so you just assumed ‘Why would they lie?'” Goldberg said of the power of the media and the messages it sends.

Whoopi Goldberg and civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson discuss “The Power of Narrative.” (Photos: Oscars/YouTube screenshot)

Other “Academy Dialogues” conversation topics and guests include: Lee Daniels and Tarell Alvin McCraney, who will be speaking during “Native Son” about navigating the film industry as Black gay men; Taraji P. Henson and Gina Prince-Bythewood will cover “ICON MANN: We Are the Culture,” a town hall focused on the Academy’s Black membership and the challenges to representation and inclusion in the industry; and DeVon Franklin will join part 2 of the town hall, “Investing in Yourself,” which addresses taking ownership and control of one’s stories and content to find success outside of the traditional Hollywood system.

The academy has been working to step up its diversity in recent years since being called out in the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter boycott campaign for its lack of Black and nonwhite representation.

In June, the organization invited 819 new members to their 2020 class, surpassing their goal to double the number of women and minorities by 2020.

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