Black Panther and Leadership

RJ Morris Audacious Ideas, Coaching, Communication, Diversity, in the news, Influence, Pop Culture, RJ Morris

Been reading a lot about diversity and inclusion work lately. Two reasons—I am responsible for Talent Acquisition and Management for a company that wants to do more in a typically male-dominated industry. Just as importantly, I have a daughter who is asking me questions about life, jobs and pop culture. If you’re an HR pro, or if you care about people in your life who aren’t white, middle-class males, you’re spending time on this topic.

So, top of mind? The importance of role models and leadership. Showing you someone who has done it before makes it easier to see yourself doing that same thing. For underserved groups, the lack of role models, and the false narrative around what works and what doesn’t, is a critical issue that HR and talent folks should be thinking about.

The NY Times highlights this in the story of Black Panther:

Movies rooted in black culture cannot become global blockbusters? Guess again. “Black Panther,” with an almost entirely black cast and a powerful Afrocentric story line, is expected to take in at least $250 million worldwide between Friday and Monday… One by one, these unwritten Hollywood rules about what audiences supposedly will and will not support are falling by the wayside….I think about it like a wall crumbling. In terms of ‘Black Panther,’ no studio can say again, ‘Oh, black movies don’t travel, overseas interest will be minimal.’”

There have not been a ton of “different” movies made, and the narrative was that audiences didn’t want to see different. They wanted white dudes and white ladies. That’s where leadership comes in. Check the rest of the story:

Disney decided several years ago to make a concerted effort to promote diversity and equality on screen… As studios embrace a wider variety of stories with more diverse casts, they have had to confront pockets of racism, sexism and homophobia….Disney’s willingness to withstand that kind of resistance reflects the emphasis that Robert A. Iger, the company’s chief executive, has put on diverse casting and storytelling across the Magic Kingdom. …”We can take those values, which we deem important societally, and actually change peoples’ behavior — get people to be more accepting of the multiple differences and cultures and races and all other facets of our lives and our people.”

….it was ultimately Mr. Iger who pushed the movie ahead, overruling (others). “We wanted to make a film with a cast that looks like you,” …that looks like the real world.”

Creating role models is not just about waiting for the next diverse CEO to show up. It is more about seeking out talent in atypical places and having the guts to ignore the consultants who tell you to play it safe by making another movie about white guys. HR Pros need to coach their leaders to do that.  My daughter and I are headed to Black Panther this week. It’ll be great to show her how awesome difference can be.