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January 3, 2005

EQUITY, AFTRA, SAG Team Up For An Evening of Diversity

All American Eyes Spotlights Stereotyping In Casting

The Equal Employment Opportunities Committees of Actors’ Equity (AEA), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), joined forces on December 13, 2004 to present a screening of a short film by Equity EEO Co-Chair Christine Toy Johnson followed by a panel discussion based on issues highlighted in the film. The event, called "An Evening of Diversity", which is a continuation of Equity’s commitment to celebrating the cultural diversity of its entire membership, drew a sold-out crowd to CBS Studio 19 in New York.

The film, All American Eyes, written and produced by Ms. Johnson and directed by her husband, Bruce Johnson, focuses on stereotyping in casting and perceptions, or misperceptions, of Americanism. A panel discussion, entitled Breaking Barriers, moderated by Sharon Jensen, Executive Director of The Non-Traditional Casting Project, followed the screening. The panel included: lyricist/composer/writer/actor Micki Grant (DON'T BOTHER ME I CAN'T COPE, YOUR ARM'S TOO SHORT TO BOX WITH GOD); writer/producer David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY, FLOWER DRUM SONG, GOLDEN CHILD); producer/director Warrington Hudlin ("Ride", "Bebe Kids", "Boomerang" and curator of the Acapulco Black Film Festival); Ms. Johnson; and actor/dancer/choreographer Kitty Lunn, who founded the Infinity Dance Theatre.

Each panelist spoke of his or her own experiences with discrimination in the entertainment industry and how they met and overcame these challenges to create opportunities for both themselves and others. The panelists also addressed some lively and thought-provoking questions from the audience, such as:

  • How do you surmount obstacles in the auditioning process?
  • Where are the new exciting filmmakers of color?
  • How do you get your films/plays produced when the decision makers with the ability to green light a project are not culturally diverse?
  • Who are the really innovative artistic people in this industry?

The panelists concluded that change has happened over the years, but there is still a long way to go. It helps to create your own opportunities "to make a place at the table," and each speaker was committed to continue "the fight." The evening also included a potluck dinner with cuisines from a variety of ethnic and racial cultures. Summing up the evening, Ms. Johnson commented: "I was extremely proud to be a part of an event that was so full of fellowship, inspiration, and delicious food! What could be better? I look forward to continuing this diversity dialogue with the membership."

EEO Diversity Event Participants include, from left to right, Equity Member Kitty Lunn, Equity Councillors Maureen Moore, Judy Rice, Scott Watanabe, EEO Committee co-chair Christine Toy Johnson, Paul V. Ames, EEO Committee co-chair Julia Breanetta Simpson, Equity Staff Willie Boston and Councillor Joanne Borts
Photo: Bruce Johnson

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