Recently, the Harvard College Film Festival held a panel and conversation with Adele Lim (Writer, Crazy Rich Asians), Lydia Dean Pilcher (Producer, Queen of Katwe, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), and Jorge Garcua Castro (Producer/VFX, Tron: Legacy) where they discussed their career trajectories & experiences, as well as their respective roles in the shifting tide in Hollywood regarding diversity and representation.
Lydia Dean Pilcher:
I pursued a journalism track in college, which led me into an interest in documentaries. Since I grew up in Atlanta, I did not have much prior experience or exposure to career paths in Hollywood, so I went to NYU graduate film school to understand more about the film industry. Film school is very similar to law school in that you learn a lot through the books, but you learn so much more through experience. After graduating, I shifted my energy into producing independent films. Eventually I got to the point where I was able to work with HBO to focus more on managing creative projects. But I would say that throughout my career, my personal passion has always been working with indie and auteur directors. That’s what really motivates me. Finding stories that shake up the world and inspire you to see a little differently and to feel something new.
I grew up in Malaysia and came to America at age 19 to finish my last two years of college at Emerson. I had always planned to go back to Malaysia and go into advertising, which I realized wasn’t my passion after gaining some experience in the field. After graduation, my boyfriend at the time had planned to move to LA to work in television, which made me reconsider what I wanted to do. I got my first job as a writer’s assistant by looking at wanted ads in film magazines, and I learned so much through writing for television. I was in a room for 8-10 hours every single day just grinding on stories, which had quick deadlines and turnaround times. It was a great training ground. Most of my career has been in television, and I just recently transitioned into features (for Crazy Rich Asians).
Jorge Garcua Castro:
I am originally from Mexico and came to the US for graduate school. My background is in business, and I did not realize getting into entertainment was an option. Originally, I worked on Sony’s technical team, where I lent a hand with production. Overall, that was a great learning experience. Later, I worked with Disney to help spearhead Spanish-language content, which no one was doing at the time. Even as a producer now, I am still highly involved with advising management and studio leadership about Hispanic content, from recruiting talent to understanding what the audience wants to see.
On Diversity and Representation Trends in Hollywood
When I was developing and selling TV shows, prior to Crazy Rich Asians, I felt like I could not sell something with a lead Asian actor/actress. It is difficult to predict what will be a hit or a miss, and many times, studio executives fall back to fear-based judgement calls. In this development season, there has been an increase in Asian-centric dramas and comedies because executives are chasing after the success of shows and films like Crazy Rich Asians; however, I fear that this will not be a lasting trend. Looking to Joy Luck Club that was released about 25 years ago, it was a massive hit, but it was not able to kickstart and launch the following wave of Asian actresses/actors and content creators. In this business, trends happens in development cycles. If new projects don’t do well, things will lapse back to just like how it was before. Thus, we have to be relentless in pushing the ball harder and more forcefully. I hope with the greater number of high-level content creators who are minorities and/or committed to diversity in entertainment, Hollywood will head towards greater representation. But for now, we can’t take that for granted.
Jorge Garcua Castro:
I agree with Adele. We are consuming so much content now, especially as platforms are becoming more globalized. With the rise of Netflix, Amazon, Disney etc., a lot of this content is becoming more localized, which I hope will help spotlight local talent as well. We haven’t seen much so far, but I certainly wish that more of it will come in the future.
Lydia Dean Pilcher:
I produce a lot of female content because those are the stories that I personally engage with the most. Similarly in the market, executives usually greenlight content that they want to see. And when the managements of many companies consist of a homogenous demographic of white, male executives, this becomes a big issue in regards to representation and the types of stories that are being told. After realizing this gap in the market, I helped to write a paper on the power of female-driven storytelling. We made the business case, the economic case, and we made the whole review data-driven so that you couldn’t argue with the numbers. There is a lot of money being left on the table because there is a large proportion of the population still underserved in entertainment. Although bigger studios are finding it difficult to change direction, the independent film and television world is where breakthroughs are poised to happen. Finally, people are understanding the economics of inclusion, even if they unfortunately don’t get it intellectually, creatively, aesthetically, and so on. We are currently seeing a lot of interesting situations where many diverse hires are simply filling quotas. But real change starts to happen when people are hired with agency. Inclusion is not about numbers, it is about agency.