Film producers, designer on the importance of diversity behind the camera

Octavia Spencer’s character Dorothy Vaughan in the blockbuster “Hidden Figures” did not in the original script live in a mid-century home with sophisticated art – it was instead a home that lacked class.

This is just one of the reasons that esteemed production designer Wynn Thomas, who also worked on “A Beautiful Mind,” is crucial to the film industry. Thomas told the NewsHour Weekend’s Alison Stewart last week that he had to gently redirect the cultural misconceptions that influenced the script.

“I wasn’t going to let it happen,” Thomas said. “I had to say to them, ‘No, no, no. These are middle-class women. These women would have been the leaders in our communities and that would have been reflected in their environments.’”

The panel was organized by WNET’s Inclusion and Diversity Council ahead of the Academy Awards to discuss the role of African Americans in the film industry, two years of #OscarsSoWhite and how to maintain momentum. He was joined by two other award-winning producers – Lisa Cortes, executive producer of “Precious,” and Sam Pollard, who co-produced the documentary “Four Little Girls” with Spike Lee.

As the first black production designer in the film industry, Thomas said he is often the only black person in the room. And while that representation has increased slightly this year, with six black actors nominated for Academy Awards, he remains skeptical about the pace of progress.

“My concern is what’s going to happen next year and what’s going to happen two years from now,” he said. “My hope is that because of the success of these movies, that more movies will be produced.”

Watch the full panel discussion above.

Kamala Kelkar is a member of WNET’s Inclusion and Diversity Council.