Ever since the slate of Oscar acting nominees announced earlier this year was without any minority representation, spawning the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, there’s been a renewed and intense discussion about diversity in Hollywood.
And it was no different at the Variety Press Play Home Entertainment and Digital Hall of Fame when honoree Paul Feig made it the centerpiece of his acceptance speech at the 35th annual gala dinner event held December 8 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Feig, director of films including “Spy,” “Bridesmaids” and the upcoming femme-centric reboot of “Ghostbusters,” issued a call to action for a more diverse industry, in every genre, and particularly the one he specializes in.
“Comedy should be diverse and universal, both on the screen and behind the camera,” he said. “We need fresh voices and fresh faces as well as faces and voices that we already know, who up until now haven’t had the opportunity to truly bring their comedy to audiences. With so many new ways to deliver comedy, we need to make sure that we’re getting all the points of view and seeing it played out by the funniest and most talented people possible.”
Feig, whose credits encompass acting, writing, producing and directing, also gave a nod to the importance of Variety in his career, recalling that his mother got a subscription to the trade when he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s to become an actor.
He concluded his speech with a tribute to his mom. “She read Variety every day of her life so I can only imagine that wherever she ankled off to in the afterlife 15 years ago, she’s prouder and more excited than you could ever know for this honor you’ve given me,” he said.
Despite the talk about diversity, the only woman who took the podium was HBO’s executive VP of worldwide digital distribution and home entertainment Sofia Chang, who accepted the Innovation Award for her network’s leadership in multiplatform distribution. It launched HBO Now, a $15 monthly standalone over-the-top service, in April, giving users the ability to access HBO original content without having a cable subscription to the network.
Initially launched exclusively for Apple products, it’s now available on platforms and devices including Google’s Chromecast, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Cablevision, Roku and Verizon.
The evening’s other honorees included Lionsgate executives Jim Packer and Ron Schwarz, home entertainment industry veteran Mark Horak and comedian and television personality Chris Hardwick.
Before each honoree came to the podium, a clip showing highlights of their careers and colleagues often making jokes about them played on big-screen monitors to the packed ballroom.
Packer and Schwarz talked about their successful working relationship co-running Lionsgate’s worldwide home entertainment division, with Packer citing the biggest reason as the fact that they actually listen to each other.
Schwarz also commented on the changing nature of the business. “The means by which consumers watch entertainment are more varied than ever, but the bottom line is that they’re watching more content across more distribution platforms than ever before,” he said, and then addressed some skeptics he encountered in his early career with this comment, “Not only is home entertainment not dying, but it’s more exciting than ever.”
Horak, the former president of Redbox (he’d left the company the day before the ceremony) and previously a Warner Bros. home entertainment executive, also highlighted the vitality of the industry and the high quality of its content.
“At the end of the day, no matter what position or title you hold [or] how long you hold it, your ability to make a positive impact on the business depends on your ability to connect with others, to see things from different points of view, to find the win-win in a negotiation and to treat people the way you would want to be treated,” Horak said.
Hardwick, who hosts “@midnight with Chris Hardwick” on Comedy Central and “Talking Dead” on AMC, injected some comedy into the evening’s event. He questioned whether he was deserving of being inducted into Variety‘s Hall of Fame, but said he was certain of one thing: “I want Mark Horak to be my dad.”
In addition to the honorees being lauded by their peers, there was a good cause in play at Press Play, which until two years ago was known as the Variety Home Entertainment Hall of Fame, and then renamed to better express audiences hitting the “play” button to access content across all devices and platforms.
Proceeds went to City Year, a nonprofit organization focused on pairing young leaders with public school students who are at risk of dropping out.