On Wednesday, black history was made when Channing Dungey became the first African-American woman to run a broadcast network. ABC president Paul Lee officially stepped down from his post after 6 years at the network.
Assuming this position right in the midst of calls for more diversity in the entertainment industry, Dungey joins a short list of minority women in a position to shake things up in Hollywood. Last month, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, first black female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, expressed her disappointment over the lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees. Not a single person of color was recognized for their work in any of the categories.
Though it will take more than black women heading television and film institutions, Dungey’s promotion is a step forward. For one thing, Dungey, ABCs former head of drama development, is said to have close ties with Shonda Rhimes, black producer of such ABC mega hits as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” The latter two series feature strong black female leads.
The challenge will come with Dungey’s ability to move up the network’s ratings despite help from “Shondaland.” According to the Hollywood Reporter, “The exec is inheriting an underperforming network that just entered midseason with dubious prospects. . . Congratulations on getting one of the worst jobs in TV!”
The article points out that in the current television age, it’s harder for a big-tent broadcaster to succeed, given all the choices available on cable television and streaming devices.
This lack of confidence only makes success harder for someone like Dungey. It reminds me of what President Obama had to go through, when he inherited a country on the verge of economic collapse. Folks betted on his failure, but 7 years later, America has come back and has shown significant improvement.
Because few people are used to seeing someone like Dungey or Isaacs succeed in positions of power, they don’t expect to see black women win. But I am putting my money on them because if there is one thing I know, it is that black women are survivors.
Who knows? Maybe Dungey will convince her boss, Ben Sherwood, president of Disney/ABC TV Group to redefine ratings success in this current climate. Maybe she’ll wield her influence and win back some viewers by giving them more of what they want—diversity.
I am throwing my support behind Dungey and Isaacs, and believing that each, in her own way, can change the status quo in Hollywood that is so desperately needed.