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[Passion to Purpose]: Ryan Tarpley Talks Diversity and Black Images in Hollywood

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Name: Ryan Tarpley

Profession: Entertainment executive and current talent manager and consultant

Age: 45

#DiversityMatters should be a given, especially in the “Land of LaLa” where images in the media make a world of difference to viewing audiences across a spectrum of racial, political, and socio-economic categories. Thankfully, we can credit those representations to Ryan Tarpley whose mission is to disrupt the establishment by ensuring all ethnicities and sexual identities have a seat at the reading table. But how Sway? “Asking questions, taking chances, and being authentic. That has led to a focus on bringing more talented diverse and female executives into an industry that has been historically closed to women and people of color,” says the industry veteran who has been working in the business of entertainment for over a decade.

Reflecting on a tremendous awards season, where people of color were represented in a number of record-breaking categories, especially at the Academy Awards, BE Modern Man chatted with Tarpley to discuss the importance of diversity, why it matters, and how to succeed in Hollywood as an African American actor.

What is your inspiration?

Success inspires me, however, it’s not my success that I’m talking about. I am motivated and excited to see and help ensure that others achieve their dreams and as a result of sharing their talents with the world to help change and shape our culture for the better.

Why is diversity so imperative in an industry like Hollywood?

One of my colleagues from CAA would always say, “People from around the world, even the most remote parts of the world, may never visit the U.S., but they will see our movies and television.” What is produced in Hollywood will be seen the world over and become their representation of what is, what is possible, and what is valued. It’s important that everyone see stories that reflect their realities and celebrate their experiences.

Describe your time working for CAA and why your role was so important to the agency.

In the 10 years I spent at CAA, my job changed dramatically, culminating (most importantly for me) as chief diversity officer. It was a role that I created and one CAA allowed me to run with. Of course, highlights included work I was able to accomplish for some of the leading athletes and entertainers on the planet. But I am most proud of being able to create opportunity for hundreds of diverse, female and LGBT young people looking to break into the executive ranks of entertainment. The work I did also helped to change the culture of the company—a change that continues to take hold. It’s something I’m very proud of but what I’m most proud of, however, was/is the role of mentor that I was able to play for so many. It was important that they see someone in a position of power and influence, someone who has made it; however, more important as that they had someone to talk to, someone who would listen to them. Someone who would support them, push them, and sometimes check them when needed it.

Describe the significance of this year’s group of black Oscar nominated films and actors.

Time will tell what this year’s films and Oscars will mean to the industry, but I believe this will be a pivotal year that will be one we reference 10, 20, and 30 years from now. The same will be said for television in 2016. I think what will stand out about this year and what Hollywood will take notice of is the diversity of type of film and actors carrying these films. 2016’s “black” films will hopefully show that consumers want to see all kinds of stories extolling the human experience told by and starring a full range of [black] people. You’ve had Hollywood’s Hidden Figures led by an all-female cast that broke box office records. You also had a classic stage play brought to life by arguably two of the greatest actors of our time, and then there is the little indie highlighting LGBT characters and stories. Hopefully, this will be the final evidence that Hollywood needs to say people want to see stories of and about all types of people, even of the diaspora, including women and gays.

How do leaders like yourself break through the static and make an impact amongst your peers?  

I learned a long time ago that the only person I’m really in competition with or up against is myself. I’ve always tried to focus only on what I could control—how hard I worked, my values, my commitment to excellence. I never even thought about it as being better than anyone else. My goal always has been and will be to do the best that I know I can and to focus on that and not what anyone else is doing or how they’re doing it. That’s not to say I don’t look to learn from others both younger and older than I because I absolutely do.

As a man with a strong character, how do you see your own impact within your community?

I helped open the door to the future of entertainment, which inevitably includes diverse people telling diverse stories for a diverse audience. I did that by pushing the boundaries in one of the most important companies in the business and setting up an infrastructure that allows more people access to and support in that environment.

What is the key piece of advice you can offer to the younger generation and BE Modern Man hopefuls looking to cultivate a successful career?

Don’t let anyone put you in a box; tell you what you are or are not capable of. Only you know what’s possible and what you can achieve. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to? I started my career working in education. People thought I was crazy to make the switch to entertainment and didn’t think I had the strength, stamina, or drive to be successful; not only was I successful, but I excelled. Now I’ve started my own management and consulting business and I see only opportunity in front of me.

Why is it important that BE Modern Men like you are represented in your industry?

The entertainment industry has historically been one to exclude people of color and women. As I mentioned earlier, it’s important for the next generation to see those who have achieved despite the odds. Equally important is for those of us who have achieved to take action to help bring others along as well.

The BE Modern Man tagline is “it is our normal to be extraordinary.” What makes you unique and stand apart from the crowd?

I live by my word. I have built a reputation in the industry because I am known for doing what I say I am going to do and following up. Those few times when I may not, I own it—no excuses!

What does a BE Modern Man mean to you?

It means someone who lives in his truth, someone who moves through the world with intention and conviction all the while being compassionate.

It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @blackenterprise and join the BE Modern Man conversation using #BEModernMan.

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