The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

16th Annual Cultural Insights Forum

"The 16th Annual Cultural Insights Forum provided me with an unparalleled opportunity to meet and learn from the very people shaping the landscape of TV and film today," says Nkenna Ibeakanma '16

"Despite the intimidating setting I managed to introduce myself to a number of people, have extremely meaningful conversations with amazing women who’s careers I really admire."

"It is harder for people who look like me to make it in this industry, but much of the future success of the industry is dependent on people like me," says Nkenna Ibeakanma '16

"In many ways, the very act of going to this conference, one that was geared towards industry professionals, and going alone, was a learning experience in and of itself."

"The conference allowed me to take both a personal and business-minded approach to my professional development."

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The 16th Annual Cultural Insights Forum provided me with an unparalleled opportunity to meet and learn from the very people shaping the landscape of TV and film today. Unlike most other fields seemingly available to Dartmouth grads, the Entertainment industry has an added layer of impenetrability given the non-linear, right-place-at-the- right-time nature of most careers within the field. As a black woman looking to pursue a career in Entertainment, I face added barriers of sexism and racism, still ever-present in the industry today and still very much causes of concern. That is why this conference, with its focus on diversifying the content that ends up of our screens, was so important for me. Not only because I was able to learn from the research presented by the Horowitz Foundation, but also because I was able to meet women of color, working in the industry right now, and hear the stories of how they got there.

The conference allowed me to take both a personal and business-minded approach to my professional development: part of the problem is there are not enough people who understand the nuances of black, or Latino, or Indian life in the rooms that matter, be it the writers’ room, or in casting, or the rooms where decisions to green-light shows or films are being made. Representation is important both on and off the screen. The research presented highlighted the increasing demand amongst audiences for actors of color, for stories which include characters that look like them, and implied that such demand couldn’t be met if, as things currently stand, mainly white men continue to dominate decision-making processes. In terms of my own career aspirations, I take
this as a key vantage point: yes, it is harder for people who look like me to make it in this industry, but much of the future success of the industry is dependent on people like me. This is a fact that is so invaluable for me to remember now and moving forward.

In many ways, the very act of going to this conference, one that was geared towards industry professionals, and going alone, was a learning experience in and of itself. Despite the intimidating setting I managed to introduce myself to a number of people, have extremely meaningful conversations with amazing women who’s careers I really admire, and in general have memories that will last a lifetime. One such conversation was with the Supervising Producer of How To Get Away With Murder, Erika Green Swafford. We spoke of thing both personal and professional; being black at an Ivy League school, being strategic in the industry, programs to take advantage of. I left feeling invigorated. One particular piece of advice she gave stays with me; she said don’t ask too much of people the first time you meet them, just leave a good impression, and then when something positive, some movement or growth happens in your career, send them a short message letting them know. My goal is to speak with her again, in that very context.

Submitted by Nkenna Ibeakanma '16

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