Former Movie Academy Diversity Chief Opens Up About Her Short Tenure

Former Movie Academy Diversity Chief Opens Up About Her Short Tenure
  • PublishedOctober 17, 2023

“My Black Identity and Femininity Seen as PR Assets”

The former Executive VP of Impact and Inclusion at the Movie Academy has revealed that she experienced a constant stream of micro and macro-aggressions while endeavoring to enhance the organization’s efforts in representation, inclusion, and equity.

In a column published by the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, Jeanell English discussed the overwhelming amount of apprehension she encountered while tasked with facilitating “a more equitable awards process and organization.” English departed from her position in June, having spent less than a year in the role. Her appointment in July 2022 was intended to address the issue of underrepresentation across the industry.

“I found myself caught in the crossfire between the communities I was advocating for and those I was calling upon to champion change. On both sides, fear was palpable. Fear made it difficult for underrepresented individuals within the industry to trust that I genuinely had their best interests at heart,” she wrote. “There were individuals in positions of authority who feared change, feared losing relevance, feared financial repercussions… and feared being subjected to cancelation.”

“Fear contributed to an impasse,” English wrote in the newspaper. “It fostered a mentality of scarcity rather than abundance. It hindered artists, executives, advocates, and allies from engaging in sincere, non-defensive listening and fostered resistance to collaboration and innovative thinking, impeding progress not only at the academy but throughout the entire industry. Prioritizing Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) should not be viewed as a zero-sum game, as it is often perceived.”

“As a result, I became the target of an unending stream of micro and macro-aggressions,” she continued. “I anticipated and became accustomed to constant challenges, both in public and private. I felt the pressure to maintain thoughtfulness, composure, and eloquence while coaching, advising, and responding to the needs of my colleagues from marginalized communities, all while nursing my own wounds. The degree of consensus-building required to lay the groundwork for the changes I advocated for demanded a level of mental agility and resilience that was unsustainable. Like many of my peers in DEAI, I recognize that feeling safe, valued, and protected is fleeting in this field.”

English further expressed her apprehension about performative DEAI roles, stating, “I, like many in this field, fear performative DEAI positions. For me, these are positions where my Black identity and femininity are seen as more valuable to an organization as a form of public relations than my demonstrated leadership and capacity to drive systemic change.”

English also commented on the most recent Oscars broadcast, noting that it served as “another reminder of how much further our industry has to go, especially in terms of recognizing, advocating for, and genuinely valuing the contributions of Black women.” Notably absent from the 2023 list of nominees were films like “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, and “Nope,” directed by Jordan Peele.

“My departure from the academy was not an act of martyrdom. It was the only sensible decision after a liberating realization: I will not sacrifice my life for systems that do not acknowledge my worth. Though I left exhausted, I left with a sense of peace, proud of my accomplishments, grateful for the partners, allies, and friends who supported my achievements, and eager to invest my talents in different parts of the industry. I still believe in solutions.”

“While DEAI leaders are now often celebrated for their exceptional resilience, determination, and skills, superficial gestures fall far short of our objective: convincing Hollywood to embrace the radical transformations we advocate for,” she continued. “We have moved beyond the need to make a business case for diversity. It is imperative that this crucial moment of industry evolution includes reimagining the roles of chief diversity officers, establishing clear organizational values, and sustaining the financial investments necessary to achieve equity and inclusion objectives.”

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