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John Gibson Talks Ten Years of Motion Picture Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program

The Motion Picture Association (MPA) was first established 100 years ago, however, ten years ago the association’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program was launched. The program, which was created in 2012, is led by MPA’s Vice President of External and Multicultural Affairs, John Gibson.

Shortly after joining the association and helping to establish the program, Gibson has worked hard on creating partnerships with major Hollywood movie studios, with a focus on creating and promoting initiatives and programs that benefit diversity and inclusion in film and television. The MPA’s member companies include the legacy studios such as Disney, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Universal, and Warner Bros., as well as Netflix. Gibson also leads the managing of MPA’s partnerships with national civil rights and multicultural organizations. Ten years after the establishment of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program, Gibson took shares with The Quintessential Gentleman his journey in helping to make films more diverse and inclusive and where things are headed in the future.

Gibson got his start in Washington D.C., which is where the Motion Picture Association has its headquarters. However, prior to joining the MPA, he was working in politics for a US senator. He also served as a political appointee for the Clinton-Gore Administration, in which he worked alongside the US Secretary of Agriculture. While not a lawyer, Gibson explained he also worked for two law firms advising on public policy and then corporate diversity. But it wasn’t until Gibson made a connection with a former US senator who took the reins at MPA in 2011 that he made the switch to the association. Within six months of his arrival at MPA, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program was established.

Film and television have always been an important part of Gibson’s life, but the lack of diversity growing up was always evident. “Growing up in D.C. at a time when the city was 85% Black, you would see film and TV shows based on the Washington D.C. experience and I didn't see my community. I certainly didn't see the diversity of the Black American experience,” Gibson shared. “So imagine that, an overwhelmingly majority Black city, with features and shows about it and you didn't see yourself or your community. That was a little off. When I got to the MPA, recognizing that we are the advocacy arm and the global face of this massive industry, I wanted to know what role I can play and also leaning on my work at civil rights and government and outreach to HBCUs, and corporate diversity, to launch this program. But first and foremost, I felt there had to be people that look like me and from other marginalized communities, working at our members' studios, to do the work to diversify the industry,” Gibson added.

In 2012, three years before the #MeToo Movement and #OscarsSoWhite, Gibson noticed that there was inconsistent diversity representation in film and in targeting multicultural audiences. He also noticed the lack of diversity that was mostly unseen, behind the scenes. “I felt that it was important that the MPA support our studios by highlighting the great work that they were doing separate [from] blazing our own path in the industry, by creating a program to be a connector between the six major studios of which we support the multicultural arm of the industry,” Gibson said.

Aside from the partnerships with film studios and civil rights groups, partnerships with film festivals play a big role in promoting diversity. Gibson and the MPA have joined forces with multicultural film festivals such as the American Black Film Festival, Urbanworld and the Georgia Latino Film Festival. “American Black Film Festival has a very special place in my heart. Because when I launched this program in 2012, ABFF was our first multicultural partner and today we have between 54 and 57 partners,” Gibson explained. He also pointed out that he recently joined the advisory board of the Atlanta Film Society after already serving on different advisory boards including the New York Latino Film Festival, and the Georgia Latino Film Alliance and Film Festival. Speaking on the importance of film festivals in helping to discover opportunities for diverse multicultural film content, Gibson referred to Ryan Coogler. “‘Black Panther’ was wildly successful, historic with record-breaking numbers and was only his third film but only his second major film. ‘Fruitvale Station’ won the competition at ABFF, which supplied him with some of the funding to help him do his passion project. That's important and there are many other creative visionaries that are discovered at film festivals at every level. And I think for those that are just starting out in the industry or those that are established in other careers that want to make a transition, film festivals are a great place to meet your tribe, meet your producing partners, your writing partners, your business manager, your agent,” Gibson added.

When looking ahead to the future, Gibson shared, “I think we have carved out a unique niche for ourselves where we have really a case study of how a trade association can support this industry on a very important subject matter. And every industry is grappling with diversity, representation, inclusion, belonging, people feeling the need to be seen, to be heard, to be valued, to be respected, particularly for their authentic selves. And that means, regardless of how the government identifies you, how you present yourself is how you are received, supported and respected. Our industry is growing. I think it's going to expand the tentacles and it will be far-reaching. It won't just be me, it'll be every member of our senior executive service out there talking about this important issue. There will be more partners, which will support our studios in greater ways than it does now. So I'm excited for that,” he added.

Check out the 2022 Culture Issue.

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