Our Values In Action
Creating Diverse, Authentic Stories
We are committed to cultivating diversity and inclusion throughout the company and our programming, both in front of and behind the camera. The representation and authenticity of diverse individuals, cultures, and stories on air is vitally important to our viewers and our company.
The box-office success and recent Oscar wins of Universal Pictures’ Green Book and Focus Features’ BlacKkKlansman validate the demand for deeply compelling narratives featuring diverse and inclusive casts. Green Book is the true story of a working-class, Italian-American bouncer who becomes the driver of an African American classical pianist on a concert tour through the American South in the 1960s. The film grossed over $300 million worldwide and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning three: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), and Best Original Screenplay. BlacKkKlansman, the real-life tale of an African American detective in the 1970s who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, earned over $90 million at the global box office and won six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (Spike Lee), with Lee winning an Oscar (his first) for Best Adapted Screenplay.
NBCUniversal takes pride in creating opportunities in the media industry. One way we do this is through our more than 50 diverse talent pipeline programs that identify and engage creative talent from a wide array of backgrounds. The programs cover a range of roles, including directors, screenwriters, actors, music composers, and journalists.
“Our pipeline programs are important to NBCUniversal and to the industry at large,” says Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for NBCUniversal. “We’re proud to have provided valuable experience to some of today’s most successful talent, both in front of and behind the camera.”
Juel Taylor dreamed of being a screenwriter after he earned a master’s degree in 2015 from one of the most prestigious film schools in the United States — the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. After graduation, he found himself working as a freelance sound mixer and boom operator instead. He didn’t know how to navigate the studio system and he didn’t know the right people.
When Taylor was accepted to the Universal Writers Program, one of our diverse talent pipeline programs, it was just the break he needed. “The program gave me access and exposure to studio creative executives who later went on to hire me,” says Taylor. “I met a lot of people who ended up helping me in ways I didn’t expect.”
Launched in 2014 as the Emerging Writers Fellowship, the program was redesigned and rebranded as the Universal Writers Program in 2017 and aims to help diversify and level the playing field in screenwriting. For the year-long program, we hire talented screenwriters from diverse backgrounds and give them creative guidance on two feature-length scripts, teach them how the studio system works, and introduce them to key players in the industry.
“The film industry, and the creative community at large, is very much relationship-driven,” says Janine Jones-Clark, Senior Vice President of Global Talent Development & Inclusion at the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, who oversees the Universal Writers Program. “In building and creating pipeline programs, we aim to create access for underrepresented voices and elevate their profiles with our executives and producers.”
Soon after completing the program, Taylor was chosen to co-write the script for Creed II with Sylvester Stallone. For Universal, Taylor and his writing partner, Tony Rettenmaier, penned the screenplay for an upcoming LeBron James biopic. And in early 2019, Taylor and Rettenmaier sold the rights to an original short story, which they will now turn into a screenplay, for somewhere north of $1 million.
In the past few years, we have also worked to diversify the film industry by signing a number of first-look deals with high-profile diverse talent, including Jordan Peele, Will Packer, Malcolm D. Lee, Eva Longoria, Marsai Martin, and Elizabeth Banks.
In television, one of our newest pipeline programs is NBC’s Female Forward, which gives experienced female directors the opportunity to break into scripted episodic TV. Female Forward launched in the fall of 2018 with 10 directors, each of whom was paired with a returning NBC show on which they shadowed on up to three episodes and then directed an episode. Several participants have already been invited to direct second episodes.