J.J. Abrams on Diversity in Star Wars, Bad Robot: 'I Can't Tell You How Much it's Benefited Our Business'
Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior reporter, covering venture capital. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks. Follow him on Twitter.
Filmmaker J.J. Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath examined the production company they founded -- Bad Robot -- and realized it was mostly white. Mostly male. And the duo set out to change how they recruit new employees.
Abrams and McGrath mandated that the pool of people they interview for jobs be more representative of the population. Now over 50 percent of the staff is female and over 40 percent are people of color, according to McGrath. "I can't tell you how much it's benefited our business," said Abrams.
When he was asked to direct "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Abrams said he felt a responsibility to cast actors who were as diverse as possible. The four leads include someone who is Latinx, a Nigerian-Londoner, a white woman, and one white man. "I'm not preaching, but we'll bring our values as much as we can to a project," said Abrams.
McGrath was one of the founders of the Time's Up movement that started in 2018 after the dethroning of producer Harvey Weinstein rocked Hollywood. She implored an audience comprised largely of white males at The Upfront Summit to do more to improve diversity at their own companies."This is not complicated," said McGrath. "You have tactics for every other business outcome you want to reach, so have one for this."
McGrath noted that by 2050, the U.S. will be a minority-majority country. Not having a workforce that represents the demographics of consumers is bad for business. "You're just going to miss a ton of sh**," she added.
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