Franklin Leonard ’00, Los Angeles
Founder of The Black List
Leonard spends his days looking for the next great movie, and that might mean screenplays that have been overlooked or don’t fit the mold. He is the founder of The Black List, a company known for its annual survey of best unproduced screenplay; films like “Juno,” “Argo,” and “The King’s Speech” have been on past lists. His TED Talk, “How I accidentally changed the way movies get made,” has been viewed nearly 1.7 million times.
For Leonard, the equation is simple: The more voices with different experiences, the better the storytelling and the greater a film’s success. Hollywood has “a choice between recognizing these realities or failing as a business,” he said. Earlier this year, he penned an op-ed for The New York Times breaking down how “Hollywood’s Anti-Black Bias Costs It $10 Billion a Year,” and the Harvard Business School has published a case study on The Black List. “If the film industry doesn’t recognize the need for the ‘culture industry to reflect life,’” he said, “they will cease to be relevant — and I mean that both in cultural and business terms.”’
The other element of success? Diverse teams. “I can’t really conceive of a place where diverse groups wouldn’t need to work together in order to be successful. It’s so endemic to everything that I do and see.” He points to artists and producers like Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, and Barry Jenkins and how they have built diverse teams — and found success doing it.
Now, a new partnership between The Black List and MGM seeks to “discover new voices with unique perspectives from historically underrepresented communities over the next two years,” according to The Black List website.
Celeste Ng ’02, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Author, “Everything I Never Told You” and “Little Fires Everywhere”
For award-winning novelist Ng, the value of diverse groups working together is something “we can see every day — every time we need to solve a problem or face an unfamiliar situation and ask a friend or colleague for their thoughts. It’s a reminder that diversity isn’t just an academic idea; it’s actually an asset for our society.”
Ng is known for more than bestselling novels. A fellow writer, Mira T. Lee, told The New York Times that Ng uses social media to “promote positive change and to highlight other writers, especially women and writers of color.” Ng once posted a call to action about joining a group of writers auctioning character-naming rights for upcoming books to raise funds for Immigrant Families Together, a volunteer group working to reunite migrant families.
To make a difference, listening isn’t enough, she said. “The truth is that many people in marginalized groups explain their experiences and concerns repeatedly, yet those concerns are disregarded or even disputed,” said Ng. “At the same time, those marginalized groups are frequently asked to listen and empathize with groups that enjoy more privilege and more power.”
Ng and Leonard are on the panel “The Fight for Equity in Hollywood and the Arts.”
Lance Morgan, J.D. ’93, Winnebago, Nebraska
President and Chief Executive Officer of Ho-Chunk, Inc.
“The system has structurally locked people into long-term poverty,” leaving marginalized groups to compete, Morgan said. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Diverse groups can access greater power and opportunity if they recognize their problems are shared by other groups, he said. “Functioning in isolation weakens us.”
His company, Ho-Chunk, drives economic development for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, a position that affords him a “platform to promote some of the other racial groups in our area.” He recently penned an op-ed in the Omaha World-Herald about how he grew his company and reinvested in the surrounding communities.
The lessons he has learned could be used by other groups, he said. “We have a phrase in our community: In order to do one thing, you have to do everything.” So, as they sought to diversify the reservation’s economy and create a middle class, Ho-Chunk started its own construction company, built a town from the ground up, bought a bank because they couldn’t get loans, and even sold used cars to avoid the “exploitative lending practices” of other dealerships, Morgan explained.
His work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Obama White House selected him as a “Champion of Change” and he was named Advocate of the Year by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency. Morgan will speak on a panel about creating impact in communities of color through entrepreneurship.