By Kayla Rodgers, Contributing Writer
HOLLYWOOD — A longtime film and television executive is partnering with civic and union leaders to launch a career training initiative designed to promote diversity in Hollywood and provide greater job opportunities for minorities in the entertainment industry.
Ri-Karlo Handy, a veteran TV editor and producer, said the newly created “Hollywood Bridge Fund” project will boost diversity in “below-the-line” technical and production jobs by recruiting, training, placing and tracking minority employees for Hollywood studios and network TV executives.
By giving Black and Brown people broader training and mentorship opportunities, Handy said the bridge fund can help Hollywood and network TV overcome the systemic racism that has existed for decades in an industry dominated by white male executives.
“We are in an industry where it is almost impossible to consistently book jobs unless you are in a certain circle,” he said. “So I am creating a mentorship match program that will help those with no contacts or connections be able to get a leg up and the tools they need to not fail.”
Under the plan, the Hollywood Bridge Fund will partner with the Los Angeles Urban League and the Motion Picture Editors Guild to provide skills training and mentoring opportunities for people of color, particularly in technical and production jobs. Then, the fund will help place those employees in industry jobs and track their career development and performance at those companies, Handy said.
Ultimately, the objective is to create a clearinghouse of career opportunities in entertainment for Black and Brown people, provide training and industry connections for all people of color and help Hollywood studios and TV networks benefit from a more inclusive and dynamic workforce, Handy said.
“Everyone is scrambling now to see what they can do, and this is something they can do,” said Handy, founder and CEO of Sunwise Media and a former Bounce TV executive. “Work with community organizations to create opportunities.”
While equal opportunity and representation has been a contentious issue in Hollywood for decades, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy starting with the 2015 Academy Awards brought new light to an old issue. Acknowledging the problem, the Academy committed in 2016 to double the number of women and people of color among its voting membership, which officials said they achieved this year.
Handy said the Hollywood Bridge Fund idea came to him last month after he published a post on a private Facebook group that read, “Looking for Black editors, please DM me your contact info.” The post quickly went viral, sparking swift controversy in entertainment circles and sharp criticism from white editors who accused Handy of discrimination and “reverse racism.”
Handy rejected that claim, saying he intended the post to promote diversity and equal opportunity – not foster racism. In an op-ed on the entertainment website Deadline, Handy wrote that several people of color e-mailed him to share their stories of discrimination in Hollywood, reminding him of how he was often the only Black editor involved in post-production for many projects.
That thought inspired him to launch a program to provide formal mentorship and technical skills training for people of color, he said. “I wanted to foster relationships for underserved communities. Black people need more mentorship in general, so I wanted to launch a platform.”
Hollywood film critic and analyst Gil Roberston, president of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), said initiatives like the Hollywood Bridge Fund are sorely needed to recruit more Black editors, especially Black female editors.
“I saw the post Ri-Karlo posted that was somehow controversial, but I think we need more of that because it is [about] creating new opportunities,” said Robertson, a longtime journalist who has written for several publications, including Billboard, the Los Angeles Times and Fortune.
“There is such a small percentage of African Americans represented in all areas of entertainment,” he added. “I think Black people make up a little more than 13% of the United States population, which is not a large number, but we should have at least that percent represented in Hollywood with real career-sustaining positions.”
Robertson said more jobs and skills training are key to solving the problem of lack of opportunity in Hollywood – something he said AAFCA does with its own mentorship program.
“For young people, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, the goal is to just expose people to opportunities,” he said.
Brian Williams, the Los Angeles Urban League’s chief of operations, said getting more people of color into technical and production jobs requires a holistic approach.
“Inequity in [below-the-line] careers requires a multi-faceted solution involving production companies, studios, unions, and training providers,” he said in a statement announcing the partnership. “We’re finally bringing all of these elements together to move the needle, and to do it at scale.”
Cathy Repola, national executive director of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, said the union is excited to work with Handy and the Urban League to create more opportunities for people of color in technical and production-level jobs.
“As a union, we remain committed to enhancing our outreach to programs and schools that serve all communities, especially those who might not otherwise have opportunities to be exposed to the array of jobs within our jurisdiction so they can envision a career path they may not have known existed or believed was possible,” Repola said in a statement.
Handy said the coalition now is recruiting mentors, sponsors and supporters for the program. If successful, he said the initiative will not only allow people of color to advance in the entertainment industry, but also allow them to become financially stable.
“Assistant editors in the industry make about $2,000 per week on a job,” he said. “That one opportunity gives a kid an opportunity to not only make a difference for himself financially but helps him to benefit his community by putting that money back into his community.”
Robertson added that it’s important for people of color to know that there are opportunities beyond acting or directing in Hollywood.
“They are not aware of the many different jobs or skills that are available for a more fulfilling career that will reap a more constant income,” he said.