November 15, 2012

Native diversity meeting at NBC Universal

On Wednesday I went to NBC Universal for a meeting on Native diversity. I was there as a guest of Sonny Skyhawk, who apparently serves as the Native representative on diversity issues with the major networks. I'm writing an article on the subject for Indian Country Today.

NBC gave its annual report on Native hiring. There were a lot of zeroes in the data tables, but they seem to be sincerely trying to find people.

Sonny urged them to do more. I threw in a few comments.

For instance, someone mentioned the show Revolution. I said I had just watched it. They showed a map of the (former) USA with a blank space labeled "Plains Nation." I said that could be a resurgent Indian nation, taking back the land after the power went off. It would fit naturally with the show's theme, and it would give Indians a chance to shine.

The most interesting thing to me was the level of player at the meeting. Robert Greenblatt, NBC chairman. Executive vice presidents of USA, Bravo, SyFy, Oxygen, and other subsidiaries. Casting directors. Etc. Just bringing that much executive talent together suggests they take the matter seriously.

It wasn't a meeting to pitch ideas, although Sonny did reiterate a couple of his pitches, such as an hour-long talent show featuring powwow dancers.

I could tell the executives weren't thinking that big. It's a bit hard to justify even an hour for an untested subject such as powwow dancing. Especially when it's about a mere 1-2% of the population. How do you persuade advertisers that this show would be a great investment?

The execs were thinking more along the lines of a guest star here, a reality contestant there. Like on America's Got Talent, bring in a top hoop dancer. On a survival show, bring in a Native who knows how to live off the land. That sort of thing.

Like everyone else, Natives would have to work their way up to starring roles and their own TV shows. It won't just happen because someone pitches a "great" idea.

As a first-time guest, I didn't say much. I was just observing the lay of the land. If it were my meeting rather than Sonny's, I could've come up with a whole list of things to do. But it wasn't my place as a newcomer to speak up.

Anyway, I'll write my article. And I may try to get involved further. It's the kind of situation where you can build relationships, then pitch something a year or three down the line.

Oh, and Sonny realizes he needs to pass the baton to a younger generation of Native activists. So if anyone's interested, speak up.

This means working for the cause of Native representation without pay, you understand. It doesn't mean showing up with a big ego to promote yourself.

For more on the subject, see TV Grows Whiter in 2011-2012 and Fox Eliminates Diversity Department.

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