He’s no stranger to breaking ground in Hollywood

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Q&A WITH REGINALD HUDLIN

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Reginald Hudlin is no stranger when it comes to helming some of Hollywood’s high-profile gigs.

He’s been toiling around Hollywood for decades, behind the scenes, overseeing influential films and television shows, while claiming his rightful place as one of the industry’s prolific creatives.

Whether it’s producing the 88th Academy Awards show in 2016, the NAACP Image Awards for decades, producing and directing films like “Marshall,” “Boomerang,” “The Boondocks,” “House Party,” and “Django Unchained,” Hudlin has gained a reputation for creating some memorable and beloved works.

His latest film, “The Black Godfather,” is currently streaming on Netflix and his upcoming Disney+ film, “Safety,” is set to premiere this fall.

What’s next for the East St. Louis native is something neither he nor anyone else could have anticipated, before March when Los Angeles was rocked by the audacious and unwelcomed coronavirus.

Hudlin, who earned an Emmy nomination for producing the Oscars, is not only executive producing the first-ever, virtual Primetime Emmy Awards — he’s making history by being the first Black person to do so in the 72-year history of the awards show.

He shares producing duties with Done + Dusted (Guy Carrington, David Jammy, and Ian Stewart) and Jimmy Kimmel, who is executive producing and hosting the 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards telecast set to air at 5 p.m. Sept. 20 on ABC.

Contributing writer Darlene Donloe recently caught up with Hudlin who was on his way to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to make sure the production is on schedule.

DD: You have already produced the 2016 Oscars and you executive produced the NAACP Image Awards for years. Describe the moment you heard you were named the first-ever Black person to executive produce the Emmys.

RH: I didn’t anticipate being asked. I thought it was exciting and unexpected. I know this is hard to believe, but I didn’t realize I was the first Black producer for the show until I read it in the paper. It’s nice. Now don’t get me wrong, there are other Black people who are qualified to do this job. There are people who have mastered their craft, are making breakthroughs, and have paid their dues. Some people even ask, ‘Why are we still doing and talking about ‘firsts’ in 2020. I understand that. It’s a good question.

DD: Do you feel pressure because you’re Black to do a good job because, in a way, you’re representing Black people?

RH: There is always pressure. I find that Black people are always supportive of each other. I’m going to do my best so I won’t embarrass the race.

DD: In your opinion why has it taken this long for a Black man or a Black person to produce the Emmys?

RH: So much of the industry is you having to have the chops and the relationships. It’s all kinds of things that make breakthroughs happen. Sometimes change happens in a quiet way. Sometimes we have to riot, and sometimes someone says, ‘How about Reggie?’ With the Oscars, the head of the Academy was a Black woman [Cheryl Boone Isaacs]. She had been grooming me. I was doing the Governor’s Awards. She made a path for me. The other producers on the Emmys wanted a different perspective on the show and my name was suggested.

DD: Talk a little about what you do day-to-day as the executive producer.

RH: It’s everything. It’s how are we going to do the music, what songs, the stage design, who is going to present the awards, let’s make sure we have the right mix of people presenting. A good men-women ratio, all networks represented, is there a wide range of diversity like sexual preference. The show should reflect America.

DD: What do you bring to the table that the other producers don’t?

RH: We’re all individuals and bring unique experiences. I’m a person who is Black, but Black is not one thing. It’s not a racial experience. It’s about my taste and preference and what is funny and thoughtful.

DD: It’s hard enough doing an awards show. You’re doing one in the midst of a pandemic. Why did you want to take this on? A lot could go wrong.

RH: Actually, I don’t feel pressure. Melvin Van Peebles once said, “Trouble is opportunity in work clothes.” There are definitely people who said, “Are you a glutton for punishment?” I feel it’s time for the reinvention of awards shows right now. We took a look at the NFL draft and the Democratic and Republican conventions and realized there were creative ways to present the show. We’ve learned a lot. There is room for some experimentation here.

DD: Tell us what can we expect from this virtual show?

RH: Well, one thing we asked ourselves is, “Why are all awards show presented the same way?” We’re going to switch it up and present some different styles this year. We have an outstanding team.

DD: I understand that the production will dispatch camera rigs and crews to more than 130 different locations around the world. Will the show be totally virtual or will there be some in-person or in-studio elements?

RH: Jimmy Kimmel is in person, in the studio. We’ll have a few presenters in person as well.  We have severe limitations on that. We have to be in compliance. We want and need to be COVID safe.

DD: People watch awards shows for the glitz and glamour. If people are accepting and presenting from their homes, they could do something wacky and unexpected and be in their pajamas.

RH: We have encouraged whatever people want to do. They can be in the living room, outside, or where they want to be. They can be in a gown or in pajamas. They could be in an Adidas tracksuit or your Lululemon. Be funky. Be flashy. I know someone who is having custom pajamas made. Whatever you want to do, this is the year to do it.

DD: What needs to happen in the industry to make things right for minorities?

RH: I don’t even like saying the word minorities. When we look at the world, it’s colorful. In America, the racial demographics are changing. We are going to be a plurality very soon. Look at the most successful entertainers and shows, they usually reflect racial diversity. What needs to happen is that it needs to reflect the audience and the sensibility of the country.

DD: Is this a good time to be a Black man in Hollywood?

RH: It’s actually a good time to be a Black person in Hollywood. Black women are doing very well right now. This is a fantastic time to be in Hollywood. There are so many different entertainment streams on which to create good content. For a talented Black person, there is more opportunity right now than in the history of Hollywood.

DD: Your thoughts on the new rules from the Academy regarding the best picture category at the Oscars.

Standard A requires a film submitted for best picture have at least one lead actor or significant supporting actors from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, or at least 30% of all actors in secondary and minor roles from underrepresented groups (including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and those with cognitive or physical disabilities). Or have a main storyline, theme or narrative centered on an underrepresented group. Is that the right move?

RH: It’s funny because I haven’t sat down and read the rules thoroughly. I can’t give an enlightened opinion. But what I can say is, “Let’s try it and see what happens.”

DD: Are you encouraged or discouraged about the entertainment industry as it relates to Blacks?

RH: I’m encouraged. Because I’ve been doing it so long, I see positive change. When I made “Marshall,” I never thought I would be able to make a movie about Thurgood Marshall. I see breakthroughs happening all the time. It’s a straight line. You take one step forward and two back and three forward …. and …

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