Streetlights Shows the Way for BIPOC Aspiring Film Workers

Achieving diversity, equity and inclusion in Hollywood requires an active commitment. It takes resources to lift up people from marginalized communities or with overlooked identities and set them on a path to success.  

Streetlights, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing this work in the entertainment industry, has kept up that commitment for the past three decades.  

The organization was founded after the L.A. riots of 1992. Streetlights’ mission is to help ambitious young talent from historically underrepresented communities find ongoing work and financial stability through careers in entertainment. Alumni have gone on to thrive thanks to the program, accruing impressive résumés and winning countless awards. 

“Everybody who comes through our program starts with a level playing field. They don’t have their foot in the door in the industry, whether they have yet to graduate college, have been through a four-year college or are facing any sort of barriers,” says Adele B. Wilson, Streetlights’ executive director, who has been with the organization since 2007. 

The nonprofit opens those doors and ensures that its alumni are prepared to walk through them via programs that provide job training, job placement, emergency financial aid, career advancement and even a path to membership in IATSE union locals. 

Streetlights counts a number of major corporations — among them, City National Bank — as longtime supporters. 

 “I am proud to represent City National, which has deep expertise in the industry, as a board member of Streetlights, an organization that for 30 years has sought to make diversity, equity and inclusion part of the fabric of the entertainment industry,” says Karen A. Clark, a City National Bank Senior VP and multicultural strategies manager. 

Streetlights has built its program to change Hollywood on two pillars, the first of which involves preparing those who aspire to work in the film industry for their future careers.  

“Our program is transformative because we’re a whole-person training program,” Wilson says. “When someone comes to us, we provide them not only with vocational training, but also with a whole week of life-management-skills training.” 

Streetlights’ curriculum also shows how the consistent pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion improves Hollywood’s storytelling, as well as the industry’s bottom line.  

“It’s important that every department on set is filled with folks from diverse backgrounds,” says Wilson. “If [every department] — from writers’ rooms to costumers, from set dressers to makeup and hair — had heads that were [people] of color, there would be more authenticity consistently across the board and more representation onscreen. It’s show business, and like any other business, the more diverse a business is, the more appeal there is.” 

The program’s longstanding focus on representation became even sharper in 2020 as nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed Black individuals prompted a reckoning across all industries.

“Systemic racism is a big issue in the country and in every business,” Wilson explains. “The entertainment industry is parallel with other businesses. [In 2020], the entertainment industry responded very aggressively, understanding that it needed to diversify its ranks among the unions [and] among sets and crew members. After [2020], I think everyone is paying more attention.” 

By providing a path for up-and-coming talent to find work in Hollywood, Streetlights’ programs have helped build up representation both above and below the line. Wilson points to one Streetlights alum who was enlisted to help add nuance to a plotline in a TV show. The writer was able to use their real experiences to add authenticity to the production, even securing a writing credit in the process.  

Streetlights has an impressive roster of graduates who have ascended into award-winning productions — and even nabbed a few awards themselves. The organization aims to nurture the next generation of industry professionals, whatever they may need. 

In 2021 alone, the organization provided work to graduates who were furloughed during COVID-19 and established a talent pool that placed its participants into industry jobs just days after graduating.

And Streetlights builds quality, not just quantity. Participants who were able to secure on-set jobs also saw a dramatic increase in pay. 

“[Our graduates are] an example of what can manifest when we invest in, and partner with, companies that walk the DEI talk,” says Clark, underlining the program’s overall impact in shaping the future of Hollywood. “We celebrate all Streetlights graduates who exemplify the excellence of the organization and serve as an example of what we can achieve in an equitable world.”

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