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Why the Entertainment Industry Should Reflect Our Diverse Society

Karin Gist

Show runner and Executive Producer “MIXED-ISH for ABC”

Karin Gist got her start writing movie and TV scripts nearly 20 years ago. Here, she reflects on what inspired her to start working in the entertainment field and the importance of diversity in the industry.

What advice would you give to aspiring women in the entertainment field?

Value your past experiences to build toward your future. The path to entering the entertainment field is not linear and even when you are in this field, there’s no manual. 

The one steadfast thing you can do is know your voice and listen to it as new experiences come your way. That also means keeping an open mind and being open to collaboration. Take every meeting. Be open to opportunity, but know that finding your voice will help you filter and build to find what’s the right fit. 

This is a time when shows are looking for unique worlds. Pay attention to the ever-changing stories around you; be curious and discover what you want to say.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the industry?

I was working as a lawyer. And I was not happy with where I was at. I spent a lot of time daydreaming, and I started taking writing classes after work to have an outlet. This outlet turned into a passion where I started going to tapings. 

A friend invited me to a taping of “Girlfriends” and I loved the energy of the show so much — it was electric. As I was filing out of the exit with the rest of the audience, I told myself that I needed to introduce myself to someone. I got the attention of the stand-up who warmed up the audience, and he flagged down a writer on the show. 

That woman was Bernadette Luckett, who became like a godmother to me in this business. I don’t remember what I said, but she gave me her contact number. Months later, I worked on my first spec — a ”Will & Grace.” When it was ready, I called her up, and to her credit, she read it and gave me notes. Bernadette showed my spec to Mara Brock Akil, the creator of the show. 

I am where I am today because other women helped pull me into this business, and I see the work I have to do as a creator to help lift other women up. We still have so much work ahead of us to fight for diversity and inclusion, especially for women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA community.  

Why do you feel it’s important to have diversity represented in the writing aspect of entertainment?

As important as it is to have those in front of the camera be diverse, those behind the camera need to represent the rich variety of human experiences around us, too. Writers are the ones crafting stories and creating characters with a specific point of view. 

Story is what makes an audience feel empathy for a character. Without hearing and seeing the authentic stories of underrepresented people, we dehumanize people. We rob them of their voices. This results in other-ing the underrepresented, which breeds fear, hate, and even violence. 

The truth is, we all feel like the other. We all feel like aliens in our own skin. The struggle for acceptance is part of the human condition, and it’s time we do better than we have in the past. 

To write from a place of authenticity and tell the stories of underrepresented characters, writers have to be diverse and inclusive as well. A TV writer’s room needs to reflect and mirror the rich, diverse society we live in. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but it starts with taking risks and looking for ways to tell stories that unite our human experiences rather than divide us.  

What improvements do you think the entertainment industry needs to make for women and where have you already seen improvements?

The entertainment industry has had a disruption with Time’s Up and the Me Too movement. Women have collectively organized and bravely spoken out, using their voices to bring awareness to the glaring injustices women constantly face. 

Entertainment, at its best, is about cultivating empathy through visibility. It’s an exciting time that there are more stories, movies, and shows doing that for women, especially stories about women of color and queer women. 

Ultimately, we need to give women access across the board, as writers, directors, producers, executives, and more. We need to foster women through the phases of their careers — from entry- to mid-level, and high-profile leadership positions. This is the work we have to do for women to be heard, their talents to be seen, and their careers to blossom.

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