SAG-AFTRA member Lena Waithe, left, talks about her experiences in Hollywood and new signatory show, Twenties at 'Essence House: Hollywood' on Feb. 7.

Essence magazine held its first-ever Essence House: Hollywood event on Feb. 7. SAG-AFTRA was a co-sponsor of the daylong event, which brought together a mix of African American industry professionals and creatives to examine representation and inclusion in entertainment.

As part of the event’s program, SAG-AFTRA member Lena Waithe (Master of None) had a special one-on-one conversation with Essence Director of Entertainment Cori Murray. The conversation not only focused on Waithe’s work in Hollywood as a writer and performer, but also her push to create opportunities for African Americans, both on and off-screen through the efforts of her company, Waithe Hillman Grad, and tell stories that are more inclusive.

“I want to diversify Hollywood by not just putting black people in spaces, but also queer black voices and trans black, because … those voices and experiences deserve to be heard.” said Waithe.

Event-goers also had the opportunity to see back-to-back screenings of Waithe’s new BET series Twenties throughout the afternoon. The show, which centers around three young African American women making their way in Los Angeles.

Photo: SAG-AFTRA member Lena Waithe, left, talks about her experiences in Hollywood and new signatory show, Twenties, at Essence House: Hollywood on Feb. 7.

SAG-AFTRA National Diversity Advisory Committee Chair and Station 19 star Jason George spoke on the Getting the Work: Navigating the Guilds and Union panel alongside celebrity hair stylists Kim Kimble and Felicia Leatherwood, and celebrity makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff-Kendricks. Panelists discussed the early parts of their careers and the benefits of being a union member. George emphasized the opportunities that can come when creatives in the industry are part of a collective bargaining voice.

“The reason why you want to be in a union at the end of the day is because it’s where the professionals are,” said George. “It doesn’t matter where you are [in your career]; there’s always somebody at the level you want to get to.”

Also participating at Essence House: Hollywood was SAG-AFTRA partner SeeHer, a movement spearheaded by the Association of National Advertisers that brings focus to addressing gender equality within advertising and media. The organization held an all-female panel with Ford Motor Company executives Dibrie Guerrero and Raj Register, production company Suddenly There Executive Creative Director and producer Kanyessa McMahon; and the Travel Channel host Kellee Edwards. Panelists discussed their experiences as African American female creatives in creating Ford’s commercial campaign for the 2020 Ford Explorer product line, and showed clips from the commercials themselves.

SAG-AFTRA National Diversity Advisory Committee Chair Jason George, far right, speaks to the audience about the benefits of joining a union.

SeeHer, a partner of SAG-AFTRA dedicated to addressing gender equality in advertising and media, held an all-female panel discussion with four women involved with Ford Motor Company’s 2020 campaign for the Ford Explorer product line.


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