Hollywood Bureau Restructures to Have More Influence and Impact

by Lottie L. Joiner

When the NAACP’s Hollywood Bureau was established 20 years ago, the goal was to increase diversity in the entertainment industry. Not only was there a lack of minority representation on television and in film, but also there were few opportunities for people of color behind the scenes. The Hollywood Bureau, which overseas the production of the NAACP Image Awards, works with industry leaders and executives on issues of diversity programming and minority employment in entertainment.

However, for the last two decades, the Hollywood Bureau has been creating miracles out of morsels. But the small staff was able to make a big impact with very little resources, creating programs that opened doors for minorities in entertainment and forming relationships with top industry leaders. Now with a new, expanded staff and more resources, the restructured Hollywood Bureau will be able to make an even greater impact, says Robin Harrison, the bureau’s vice president.

The Hollywood Bureau will now have two divisions, a special events unit and an advocacy and outreach unit. The special events side will focus on the NAACP's annual convention, special projects, and the Image Awards, which recognize the contributions of diverse creative artists. The advocacy and outreach side will focus on relationships with industry partnerships, entertainment guilds and talent, the ambassador program, and internship and fellowship programs. Both sides will work to create projects that could be fundraisers for the NAACP.

The bureau will look at how it can utilize technology to enhance its work within the NAACP. It will also examine how it can become cultural consultants to networks, studios, and industry insiders to help improve the media portrayal and representation of diverse cultures as well as create a minority executive pipeline for talented C-suite level professionals.

“One of the goals of the [Hollywood] Bureau is to create pathways to inclusion,” said Harrison. “How do we create pathways for inclusion — be it the Image Awards, our internships, fellowship programs, a symposium, or partnership with the [entertainment] guilds? Delivering on that is big. So, with everything that we do, that is the end game.”

Leading that charge is industry veteran Kyle Bowser. A native of Philadelphia, Bowser developed television shows for Fox and HBO. He worked on a number of popular 90s classics, including Martin, In Living Color, and Roc. Bowser also produced the first television series for the late comedian Bernie Mac called Midnight Mac.

As the new senior vice president of the Hollywood Bureau, Bowser said he sees the restructured bureau as having an important role in facilitating dialogue between the social justice and entertainment communities.

“It's easy for people to see the glitz and the glamour and the celebrities and the things that they know from popular culture, but what they may not realize is, beneath the surface of all of that that looks so special and exciting, is real advocacy work,” said Bowser. “In addition to the Image Awards, there's this need for a very intimate relationship between the Hollywood Bureau and the entertainment community — all of the studios, all the networks, all of the production companies, all the agencies, all the guilds, all of the major operators that make up what we call entertainment. They need to know us. They need to know that we're there. They need to know that we have a voice that is prominent, and they may need our help.”

Bowser said the Hollywood Bureau will also play an integral part in presenting more positive images of African Americans, working in tandem with industry partners to determine which stories to tell and how to tell them.

“Entertainment has a way of shaping hearts and minds,” said Bowser. “You could travel abroad and you could meet someone and their only understanding of who you are as an African American is based completely on some film and TV programming that they've seen because they've had no other exposure,” he explained. “We have to influence how those images are being made and how those stories are being told, because it's impacting how we're being perceived and how we're being handled worldwide.”

The NAACP’s new partnership with CBS is one step toward that goal. Last summer, CBS Television Studios and the NAACP agreed on a groundbreaking “multiyear partnership to develop and produce scripted, unscripted and documentary content for linear television networks and streaming platforms.”

According to an NAACP statement, “as part of the agreement, CBS Television Studios’ creative leaders will work with the civil rights organization to establish a dedicated team of executives and infrastructure to acquire, develop, and produce programming. The partnership will focus on producing premium content that expands the number of diverse voices contributing to an ever-evolving society, and by telling inclusive stories that increase the visibility and impact of Black artists in a growing media landscape.

“The CBS/NAACP partnership includes a commitment to develop content for the CBS Television Network as well as the ability to sell programming to third-party platforms across the media landscape.”

Harrison describes the partnership as a “game changer.” She notes that as a nonprofit, the NAACP has a unique opportunity to have a seat at the table as a content creator and to produce content that speaks to African Americans and the concerns of the Black community. Projects from the CBS/NAACP partnership could range from documentaries to feature films and sitcoms.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Harrison.

Veteran media executive Sheila Ducksworth will serve as president of the CBS/NAACP production partnership. Ducksworth has done projects for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and most recently served as executive producer of the Wendy Williams biopic on the Lifetime cable channel. She credits the president and CEO of CBS Entertainment Group George Cheeks for making sure that CBS was involved in the NAACP venture and that the media conglomerate made an investment in telling diverse stories.

“I am very much looking forward to being a part of getting out great TV that is compelling, that's interesting, that's entertaining,” said Ducksworth. “Television that will have people talking, television that will make people think, television that will make people just enjoy spending time watching these stories either alone or with their family or friends, television shows that really make a statement.”

Ducksworth said that the content for the projects will be primarily created by African American talent and that the door is open for people with great stories. The response to the CBS/NAACP venture has been remarkable, she added.

“There are so many people who are just excited and elated about a new opportunity that exists to tell the kinds of stories that we're looking to tell,” said Ducksworth.

The NAACP and CBS Studios partnership is just the beginning of how the restructured Hollywood Bureau plans to play big. Whether as a facilitator in a dialogue on African American images or creating pathways for inclusion, the bureau will have influence and impact.

“What's really exciting is a lot of the ideas that we thought about for the Hollywood Bureau five, 10 years ago, I now see the possibilities of that happening,” said Harrison. “We're going to be able to take the bureau to that next level.”