Top Entertainment Executives Get Candid at Women’s Leadership Forum
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Top Entertainment Executives Get Candid at Women’s Leadership Forum

(Image: Leroy Hamilton) Panelists and WLF Co-Chairs: (l-r) Chloe Barzey Donaldson, Nne Ebong, Jamila Hunter, Channing Dungey, Mara Brock Akil, Shaun Robinson, Salaam Coleman Smith

(Image: Leroy Hamilton) Women's Leadership Forum Co-Chairs Chloe Barzey Donaldson (l) and Salaam Coleman Smith (r)

As an ABC Family executive what is your take on the new “black boom” on television?

Coleman-Smith: What’s great about the Executive Leadership Forum Panel “Images of Black Women on Television”, our panelists are all senior-level African American women who are behind the scenes leading the transformational change that is happening. Our four panelists Mara Brock Akil, Channing Dungey, Nne Ebong, and Jamila Hunter will talk about black women as leads, but also, black professional women and the fact that we’re in this golden age of black female representation where there is a range of images, particularly the black female professional female image is driving so much success. Aside from Mara Brock Akil, the other three ladies are all executives for ABC entertainment. ABC, right now, is the highest rated broadcast network in prime time and the highest rated shows on ABC are the shows that feature African American leads. When you look at How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and Blackish, those shows have absolutely broken new ground.

What makes this prime time for the black women on television?

Coleman-Smith: Like anything there is a tipping point. There have been so many African American women who have paved the way in television in the last 30 years. You had Diane Carrol break new ground, and Phylicia Rashad, with her generation, did as well. Each generation of black women–actresses, producers, and writers have contributed. We’re just at a unique moment where we’re experiencing a cultural shift and it’s not just affecting the African American community. It’s affecting multicultural audiences. These high rated shows featuring black women as leads don’t just have black audiences. There is something unique right now about black culture, black leadership, and black imagery that has been much more accepted by the mainstream.

As an executive, are you noticing that black women are more sought after as stars of mainstream shows?

Coleman-Smith: At the executive level, the creative process is still very driven by looking for great characters and great stories. I think that from a creative development process, seeing shows starring black women have such success obviously makes advertisers, the business community, and the creative community much more open to telling the stories of black women.

Why do you think it’s important for events like the American Black Film Festival or the Women’s Leadership Forum to exist in order for black women on big or small screens to remain prominent despite what current trends may be?

Coleman-Smith: The connection between black women is very critical in helping to continue to ensure these types of stories are told. I remember I was named as one of Black Enterprise’s Top 50 Power Brokers a few years ago. Just by being featured in Black Enterprise, the number of black women that reached out to me, students to executives, has facilitated all kinds of networking and connections and different ways of partnering together. Events like American Black Film Festival and the Women’s Leadership Forum create opportunities for black women to connect with other black women and that can only lead to more success.