The Hollywood landscape is changing after the WGA/SAG strike and although the unions battled for – and won – most of the concessions they wanted, entertainment mogul Issa Rae says it could mean bad news for Black creatives.
HBO Max canceled her reality show Rap Sh!t something she says is becoming a trend for Black shows. Grand Crew, A Black Lady Sketch Show, The Wonder Years, and Rae’s Sweet Life: Los Angeles and others got the ax as the industry worked out its new normal post-strike.
“It’s already happening,” Rae told Net-A-Porter. “You’re seeing so many Black shows get cancelled, you’re seeing so many executives – especially on the DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] side – get canned. You’re seeing very clearly now that our stories are less of a priority.”
After the strikes were settled, there were cancellations across the board, but Black creators remain part of the “last hired, first fired’ when it comes to the mainstream part of the industry. Other platforms from Tubi to Amazon Prime to TikTok have enabled Black creators to find alternate ways to develop and sell stories but aren’t necessarily bringing in Netflix numbers or wider opportunities.
Though Rae has a healthy roster of projects in the pipeline, including two shows in development for HBO through her deal with the network, she’s aware of the challenges faced by those without her track record.
With DEI on the attack everywhere including in education and business, Rae wonders if Hollywood is reneging on its stated commitment to diverse stories and creators. Sure, she was in both the buzzy Barbie movie last year and is in American Fiction as well. Rae’s Warner Bros./Discovery deal is said to be eight figures. But her reality show projects faltered for various reasons proving that even at her level, show cancellations can happen.
Rae told Time in a new interview that Hollywood’s creativity is lagging because its executives are more consumed with numbers than with telling great stories.
“I’ve never seen Hollywood this scared and clueless, and at the mercy of Wall Street,” she said.
And according to the article, she’s right about diversity measures declining. Rae was on the cover of an issue dedicated to 18 leaders “working to close the racial wealth gap.” Time quoted a UCLA report that says in 2022, after an increase in 2020 and 2021, the amount of diversity in film and TV started to recede to 2019 levels. In 2023, a USC study said the industry’s stated goal to increase those numbers was “performative.”
Rae says she’s trying to be part of the solution through the work she does, the decisions she makes in her shows, and by setting up her Hoorae production offices near Inglewood. Though her bid to buy city-owned land to create a studio production facility in South Central L.A. was unsuccessful, she isn’t giving up.
“I recognize that I have to do well economically to be able to make change,” she says. “That’s frustrating, that’s ugly. But I recognize that money moves things faster—and so much of what I do is with the intention to help make those moves.”
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