Vassar Quarterly - Spring/Summer 2017 - 35
Kelly Edwards '85 says the
entertainment business has
always been about "who you
know," which puts people
of color and women at a
disadvantage. Her job is to
bridge the gap.
The eight-month-long writing program received
4,000 applications in three days this year-there are
only eight spots. Both the writing and directing tracks
provide mentoring and education, along with the
work, she says.
HBOAccess graduates are working on shows like
Timeless, Life in Pieces, Fresh Off the Boat, and Jason Alexander's upcoming series, Hit The Road. Others are
creating independent films and documentaries
premiering at film festivals and showing on HBO Go,
HBO Now, and other outlets.
Edwards's other initiative, HBO Salon Dinners,
brings talent and executives together to break bread
during the summer months, connecting HBO's
decision-makers with outside senior talent-editors,
writers, directors, cinematographers, and others. The
idea, she says, is that the guests have actual conversations, as opposed to perfunctory interviews.
"We keep things loose and fun," Edwards says. "So
far, the resulting meetings and hires have been great."
When she first started in the entertainment
business, no one was talking about diversity. Her first
job in the industry was as a story editor with a major
casting company that worked on a lot of Brat Pack
films. "Not many people of color walked through the
doors," Edwards says.
It wasn't until she moved to Fox, and later UPN-
which catered to more diverse audiences-that she
began working with more varied casts and crews. In
fact, during those years she helped produce breakout
hits like Martin and Living Single.
Before getting the call from Fox, Edwards says
she was ready to look into a new career because the
nepotism in Hollywood left few jobs for those without
contacts. She ended up at Fox through a diversity
"I think the untold story is just how successful the
diversity programs are overall," Edwards says. "Many
of today's show-runners got their start that way, but
because writers and directors don't announce that
they were the 'diversity hire,' those successes don't get
Edwards's job at NBCUniversal was the first to put
her in charge of increasing diversity. There, she was
responsible for all of the company's television groups.
A few years before landing at NBC in 2007, the NAACP
had threatened to boycott the four main television
networks because there wasn't a single lead character
of color on their shows. Negotiations led to an understanding with the networks that they would increase
their minority talent-both in front of and behind the
camera-and each network was regularly and publicly
graded on their progress.
"I think the untold story is
just how successful the diversity
programs are overall."
-Kelly Edwards '85
At NBC, Edwards led a group under the auspices
of Paula Williams Madison '74-then Executive Vice
President of Diversity for NBC-and was tasked with
working with the executive producers of each show
to increase diversity.
Edwards credits Madison with encouraging her to
make creative decisions and to be bold in her advocacy
of others-traits she continues to display today.
"You need that kind of fearlessness to do this job,
and Paula was a great example of how to do it well,"
In her nearly seven years at NBC, Edwards brought
in a diverse pool of talent-especially executives-for
NBC and its other networks: Oxygen, Bravo, and USA
Network. By hiring these executives, Edwards says, a
domino effect took place.
"Just look at who Issa Rae, Jill Soloway, and Ava
DuVernay have hired. They don't consider hiring a
woman a risk. And people of color aren't an afterthought," she says.
In her role at HBO, Edwards's previous experience
has come in handy. She knows many talented individuals whom she can and has recommended for work on
Perhaps one of Edwards's best assets when it
comes to finding talented executives is her side project,
Colour Entertainment, a networking group for executives of color in the industry that she co-founded in
2000. With more than 400 members in New York
and Los Angeles, the group hosts gatherings, panel
discussions, and training. Three times annually, the
group organizes a dinner with the CEOs and presidents
of studios and television networks.
One day, Edwards says, the people you see on film
and television-as well as the staff behind the scenes-
will reflect what you see in America. Until then, she
says, she will continue to open doors.
"My hope is that I can continue to fight for others
for as long and as loudly as I can, until the conversations change and diversity organically becomes the
norm," she says.
VA S S A R Q u A R T E R LY