For HBO Max, Diversity Is More Than PC; It’s a Secret Weapon
Lucinda Martinez spent years promoting multicultural programming at HBO, and now it’s a centerpiece of what can make HBO Max successful.
In 2018, women and people of color directed 58% of HBO’s episodic programming, up from 35% in 2015. Now the network wants to accelerate its diversification by focusing on craftspeople with HBO POV — aka Power of Visibility.
HBO launched its award-winning multicultural marketing division more than eight years ago under the leadership of Lucinda Martinez. At the start, it was a subset of her work as VP domestic network distribution; today, it’s the Multicultural & International Marketing division that she leads as its executive VP.
“When we started, we realized that we weren’t just having an impact on the shows themselves, but also on the talent that’s out there,” said Martinez. Initially, she and her team focused on the promotion of shows like “Insecure,” “Ballers,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” and “2 Dope Queens.”
However, they realized that by focusing only on the shows’ air dates, they overlooked an enormous opportunity to capture the perspectives of diverse crew members who work behind the camera.
“I’m Dominican all year, not just on Hispanic Heritage month,” said Martinez. “What we found was that it’s important to always be in conversation with your audience all year, asking the question of how we can showcase the diversity of our talent from a year-round standpoint.”
To date, POV talent have participated in masterclasses, speed mentoring sessions, and panels and moderated discussions at film festivals as well as last month’s premiere “Our Stories to Tell,” a three-day event in Hollywood.
“We discovered that creatives from diverse backgrounds weren’t really in the know about these below-the-line jobs that are crucial to the production of these shows that they watch,” said Martinez. “If you can’t see it, then you don’t know that you can be it, right? This is what we mean by the power of visibility.”
While it’s difficult to quantify the overall impact of an effort like POV, Martinez highlighted individual victories.
“When we have our events at Sundance, it’s powerful seeing a veteran DP that we bring, mentoring other DPs that are there, explaining what it was like for them as either a person of color, or as a woman, as LGBTQ,” she said. “We are also starting to see that when you bring in people that are representative, they themselves will bring in more people that are representative. So much of it is intangible, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful, and we are tracking it all.”
HBO POV held its first annual end-of-year celebration, “That’s a Wrap” December 10 in Hollywood, CA, in recognition of their participating talent of over 70 creatives, since the initiative’s inception. Among the attendees were “Watchmen” DP and director Andrij Parekh and “Insecure” editor Daysha Broadway.
For Parekh, who is of Ukrainian and Indian descent, he was drawn to the POV mission. “America is a multicultural community, and to get every voice shared is kind of what our democracy is about,” he said. “It’s nice to be considered part of this kind of thing where your work is highlighted where it otherwise may be sort of missed.”
Broadway, who is African American, appreciates that it provides access to behind-the-scenes talent.
“I think a lot of us don’t necessarily have ways to get into the industry,” she said. “And so we are out here trying to make it work with no connections. So it’s great that companies like HBO are providing opportunities for those people who don’t necessarily have a way to just pick up the phone and call to ask.”
Ultimately, for both, the POV initiative is about representation.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t necessarily know that ‘TV editor’ was a job that I could do, that there were black women who were behind the scenes, cutting TV shows,” said Broadway. “Hopefully someone out there will see my face, and see that there are so many great opportunities for everyone behind the scenes that they may not have thought of before.”
Martinez echoed their thoughts. “It’s really interesting that even during our experiential events, when we focus on craft and expertise, the talent will still speak from where they sit,” she said. “For example, a black stuntwoman on ‘Watchmen’ is asked what it is like to be a stuntwoman, and she’ll inevitably talk about what it’s like to be a black woman. So it comes up organically and from that, we’ve gotten some amazing content and traction.”
Beyond HBO, the POV efforts extend to WarnerMedia’s TBS, TNT, and the upcoming HBO Max, where Martinez and her team are already developing experiences for the platform’s multicultural content that will be key to its success. HBO Max can only achieve its long-term goal of being in every home if it leans heavily on the power of its multicultural audiences, the largest growing segment of the population; according to the Census Bureau, minorities are expected to be majority by 2044.
“First, there’s going to be more diversity, even within the storytelling, and second, I think there will also always be a demand for powerful, compelling, groundbreaking concepts, and we want to make sure that we are always at the forefront of that intersection,” she said. “But more doesn’t always mean better, and I think the decision around content will always still happen either through curation or word of mouth, and that’s a battle I think we will win.”
In September 2018, WarnerMedia formalized its commitment to diversity and inclusion as business imperatives, pledging to ensure diverse actors and crew members are considered for film, television and other projects.
“It’s rooted in our mission as a team, and we’ve always known that media is a powerful vehicle, but we haven’t been intentional around the impact that we can make,” Martinez said. “So this is about focusing our efforts in a much more purposeful way, showcasing our talent in the manner they deserve, and underscoring that by projecting their voices, which then presents our vision.”