This interview was conducted as part of the interview series, LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history.
"On the one hand, you want to celebrate what feels like progress," Alana Mayo begins. She's describing the range of identities we've begun to see on and off-screen — people that have been historically underrepresented in Hollywood, or worse, completely invisible. But she warns that the work isn't over.
"Is this a trend, or do we feel like we've actually reached a tipping point of change? I think it's a trend that will have lasting power." Alana Mayo, the Head of Production and Development for Michael B. Jordan's production company, Outlier Society, is one of the many people in the entertainment industry ushering in this new era of representation and storytelling.
After working with Outlier Society, one of the first production companies to adopt inclusion riders for all current and future productions, Warner Bros. changed their company-wide policies to also focus on and actively increase the number of women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups. (An inclusion rider is a contract provision that can be used to mandate equity in casting and crew hires.)
On this week's episode of the LGBTQ&A podcast, Mayo talks about Warner Bros. adopting this new change, how people in the industry, like her fiancée, Lena Waithe, are helping to create opportunities for others, and why the word "diversity" has lost its meaning.
After working with Alana Mayo and Michael B. Jordan, Warner Bros. changed their corporate policies to engender more inclusivity.
"Frances McDormand made that beautiful speech at the Oscar's where she educated so many people as to the existence of this idea, of the inclusion rider. And Michael, being the thought leader that he is, immediately raised his hand and said, "This is something that we should be doing for our company and we should attach to all projects that we produce."
Our next project was going to be with Warner Bros. What ended up happening, in the best of ways, is instead of just adopting the rider for our contract on that specific movie, they decided to rewrite their corporate-wide policy, so it would not only affect just Mercy, but it would also be scaled to include all productions that happen underneath the Warner Media banner."
Alana doesn't like the word "diversity".
"The reason I hate the word "diverse" is because we've been using it in a certain way that it now signifies something that we don't mean it to. Usually, people hear "diversity" and they think "black people," which is not inclusive of a bunch of other wonderful races, but also not inclusive of other identity markers.
What I like to consider it is traditionally underrepresented individuals within the context of our industry. That goes across race; that goes across gender, depending on the role. There are so many types of people that have not, traditionally in this industry, had access or opportunity to the level that other people have."
She wants to celebrate progress, but remains cynical.
What we're very lucky to have is years of people that have come before us, black creators in this industry that have created the level of opportunity that we have now. You see all of these people capitalizing on it in really exciting and profound ways, and that, coupled with the technological change that's happened means that all of those creators that are motivated and excited to tell their stories have the access to do it.
Now, how the industry reacts to that and whether or not movie studios will want to continue to greenlight content that's made by and for people of color? We'll see. Whether the Oscar's will consistently have black nominees and winners? I don't know. I hate to be somewhat cynical about it, but I think celebrating the win of that campaign [#OscarsSoWhite] is no longer is necessary.
Alana points to her fiancée, Lena Waithe, as a Hollywood creator who is making real change.
"The creator lane is doing incredibly well. I'm highly biased towards her, but I think about the work that my fiancée, Lena Waithe, is doing. Not just putting out her own content, but creating so many opportunities for other people—other queer people, other women, other people of color.
She's even hard on me. Last night, she was like, "There are all of these amazing, young black women who are coming up in the ranks directing, and you need to hire one." She, and other people like her, including Michael [B. Jordan], are really driving a movement in exciting ways."
Alana sees her race and gender acknowledged more than her sexuality.
"99% of people just assume that I'm straight. I wasn't in a relationship with a woman that my colleagues in my adult life knew about until I started dating Lena. I don't think, up until that point, that everyone was aware of the fact that I would identify as bisexual.
I feel super tapped into all of these aspects of my identity and always have. But I am definitely super black; I've always been. I feel very proud to be a queer person too, but I think I've been engaged more politically in issues that surround race.
When I came into Hollywood, my first couple of internships were with Lee Daniels and Warrington Hudlin. I was very acutely aware of the experience of being black in Hollywood. If I could pick a person who was a big point of inspiration for me for wanting to do this, it was Spike Lee. That was completely connected to the fact that he was making movies about the black experience that I related to, not just as a black woman, but also as a content creator.
New episodes of LGBTQ&A come out every Tuesday, only on the Luminary app. Click here to listen.