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ABC gives grants to boost diversity

Jul 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ABC-the network that has received the most criticism from a diversity coalition-is now the first network to start an annual talent development grant program designed to nurture minority talent.
Last week ABC handed out $20,000 each to 10 winners. The winners, who will use the money to fund their projects, will also each be paired with a mentor from the network for a year and attend writing workshops.
Carmen Smith, ABC’s vice president of talent development programs and community initiatives, said at the end of the year the winners will showcase their projects at a three-day workshop, allowing ABC’s creative executives a first look. Although there is no guarantee, she said the projects might be distributed through ABC’s various platforms. “Our aim is to bring them into the ABC family,” she said.
Alex Wallau, president of the ABC Television Network, said the program’s goal is to increase the number of minorities behind the camera. However, he also said the network still has more work ahead to increase diversity.
“There is no one way to get this thing done to really make the network responsive,” Mr. Wallau said. “It’s really important that we not give a distorted picture of America, that we be inclusive of not just faces but also of cultures.”
As for ABC’s relationship with the coalition that has accused the television networks of lacking diversity and ABC in particular for not responding, Mr. Wallau has personally made it his responsibility to lead ABC in its diversity efforts and to deal with coalition members. “It’s important,” Mr. Wallau said. “I think we have found a relationship.”
Out of about 35 entrees received, the 10 winners are Aurora Aguero, John Akahoshi, Julie Cho, Christa Dickey, Paul Francis, Mohammed Kamara, Joyce Lee, Nicole Roberts, Sherwyn Smith and Billy Sorrels III.
To find applicants, ABC went to various nonprofit minority associations around the country to help pinpoint qualified minority artists. Ms. Smith told Electronic Media that three weeks ago she began touring the country to visit minority groups in search of applicants for next year’s contest.
Mr. Akahoshi, who heard about the ABC talent development program through the National Asian American Telecommunications Association, said he will use the grant money to fund his film project “Battlefield,” a movie about the Japanese-Americans who were interned in camps during World War II and who joined the U.S. Army to fight the war in Europe. For him and others who won the grants, it is an opportunity not only to get funding but also distribution through ABC. “I haven’t been too successful in getting anything developed,” Mr. Akahoshi said, “but this is a promising start, and it’s very encouraging because I think a lot of what helps artists who are struggling is that someone else recognizes what you have to say is important.”