Christine Simmons’ entire career has been guided by the idea that we can create a more inclusive, diverse, and kind culture in every industry. As the first-ever Black and female Chief Operating Officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AKA the Oscars), she and her team lead the organization’s new standards for diversity in front of and behind the camera. Before joining the Academy, she was EVP of Magic Johnson Enterprises and then went on to serve as President and COO of the WNBA LA Sparks for 5 seasons.
Throughout Christine’s impressive career, she’s never forgotten that she’s an activist first and foremost. Listen to hear Christine discuss how she failed up, her love of women’s basketball, and how she’s helping to change the landscape of Hollywood.
Christine Simmons is the COO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
Jay Ruderman: All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation and social justice with, Jay Ruderman.
Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman, and this is All Inclusive, a podcast focused on inclusion, innovation and social justice. Christine Simmons’ entire career has been built around the idea that we can achieve equality in any industry. [00:00:30] She first began working in Supplier Diversity at Disney and NBC Universal, where she helped expand opportunities for businesses owned by underserved communities. She then went on to be the Executive Vice President of Magic Johnson Enterprises, where she led the operations of the WNBA’s LA Sparks throughout their first season. She would go on to become the team’s president for five seasons. In 2019, Christine, [00:01:00] made history as the ever black and female chief operating officer of the Academy of Motion, Picture Arts and Sciences. She and her team lead the first Office of Representation, Inclusion and Equity. She brings a new perspective to the Academy as an innovative thinker, where she plays a key role in supporting the organization’s new standards for diversity in front of and behind the camera. Christine, welcome to All Inclusive.
Christine Simmons: [00:01:30] Thank you. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jay Ruderman: Thank you for being here. I just wanted to tell you that in preparation for this, I watched your address at the Velocity Conference and I was struck by something that you said in end, which I say all the time to my staff about, this is all about joy. This is all about doing good, but also bringing joy into our lives. [00:02:00] And maybe you can talk a little bit about that because I think that’s missing and in our world, in the rat race of trying to accomplish things, we overlook the importance of joy in our work.
Christine: Yes, I agree. And you know what, Jay? The other thing that I think is really important, especially in this time where we’re all really reconciling with our passion to the point of this entire podcast, about being all inclusive. Using joy as almost another [00:02:30] act of resistance, especially for those of us who have faced so much adversity, whether it’s those with disabilities, or whether it’s those from historically underutilized communities or underserved communities, you don’t see us just joyfully successful, just joyfully having fun.
And even that, just the image of that and the empowerment of that and giving platform to that and that image in that story and that, that in itself is just this active resistance that is just rooted in joy, not in [00:03:00] pain, not in adversity, not in our challenges. And so that’s really lately, it’s in my shift, where’s the joy? Let’s highlight that. Because we’ve all talked about adversity for a long time and we’re tired. Let’s celebrate some wins, let’s have some successes and let’s show of the world what joy looks like. And then I think you always have a better outcome in that regard. I appreciate being aligned in philosophy with a brilliant person like you in that regard, for sure.
Jay Ruderman: Well, [00:03:30] thank you. And it’s such a powerful message that I wish other people would adopt. And you’re right, we have been going through a very difficult time with the pandemic for an extended period of time. But I wanted to talk to you, you’ve used the term that you failed up in not getting into medical school.
Jay Ruderman: But you’ve had this fabulous career where you’re the COO of the Academy. What do you mean by that, failing up?
Christine: [00:04:00] Well, for me, it was taking back the term failure. And I think so many times you start internalizing some of this stuff. And you internalize what society wants you to think about, what it means not to achieve a goal. And so what I started to look at, and it took me a long time, I would say maybe, I didn’t start actually saying I didn’t get into medical school until five, 10 years ago and I’ll be 47 this year. I would say, “I decided to go another way.” And while that also [00:04:30] is true, I decided to go another way, because I didn’t get into medical school. But what I really did was looked at, okay, well, why did I not get in? Number one. What’s the lesson you learned? And then also more importantly, how did I reinvent myself?
And so each time, and even before medical school, I was a three lettered athlete in high school. But I had had two major knee surgeries before I’d even graduated from high school and then had another one when I went on to college. I couldn’t pursue my athletic career that I wanted to. I even wanted to, at one point, be a model [00:05:00] and that didn’t work out for me. And then when I didn’t get into medical school and I had thought that was all that I ever wanted to do and all that I ever could be, to be able to reinvent myself from there actually made me stronger. It made me smarter. It made me more, and I used this term, gently resilient, because we do have to have a certain level of resilience. But I think at some point we do have to also not always have to be resilient.
But that being said, it made me realize [00:05:30] that there are other options. And because that door, we’ve always heard one door closes and another window or door opens for you. And that’s what happened for me. And so when that closed, I took from it, all of the beauty, the service, the desire to still empower and to uplift underserved communities, which is what my whole goal was in the first place because my goal had been to do a joint MD/MBA in open nonprofit health centers across the country. Especially in [00:06:00] the areas that are underserved and underinsured because I wanted to be an ER doc and a lot of times you see those communities using the emergency room for their primary care because they don’t have primary care.
And so that was the whole philosophy around it. And then when I didn’t get in, I was, okay, so now what? And now how do I continue to hold dear, hold true, those aspects of who I am and what I love and how I want to show up in the world, and then reinvent myself? And so I did so through [00:06:30] my career and trying to find ways, through business, through entertainment, through sports, through finance, through all of these ways, to be able to still uplift communities in a different way. And so when you fail at a task, or you don’t meet a goal, it doesn’t make you a failure. It just means that you now have, one, you’ve tried and you’ve tried to do something new in different or bigger and better, which I love as well. But that being said, you also then have the opportunity to be successful at something else.
Jay Ruderman: [00:07:00] Sure. And I’ve heard you give interviews and you talked right now about the importance of giving back and activism. And I remember you saying in a previous interview that maybe you put too much time into activism. But my belief is, I’m an activist. And I think if you’re an activist, you’re always an activist and it really motivates you. Can you talk about this passion for giving back and how it plays a role [00:07:30] in the work that you’re doing right now?
Christine: Yeah. And I love that Jay, because you find your alignment. Because that is who I am, that is who you are. How do you align that with either your career goals or your philanthropic goals or all of those other things? And the thing is, I just wasn’t in alignment. I had to get in alignment with where my true passion was. One of my dear friends, mentors, and former bosses, she used to say, what’s your default? What do you default to? And my default was always giving back. My default was always in the community. My default [00:08:00] was organizing and protesting and marching down brew Bruin Walk in protest if you will. And so when I joke about that, it’s because most of my peers and colleagues were probably studying 30 to 40 hours a week while I was both working and protesting and so in the community.
But to your point, activism shows up in so many little ways that have big impacts. A lot of folks think if they go into corporate America, that they can’t be an activist. [00:08:30] They feel if they go into entertainment, they can’t be an activist, but for a platform. And we even talked about joy as an active resistance. There are different ways. And I think you have to really understand, what impact do you want to make? And then activism is simply an intentionality of every decision you make leading towards that greater good, that greater goal, that is bigger than yourself, in my opinion.
And that can happen in your day to day job. That can happen regardless of title, [00:09:00] you don’t have to have a C in front of your title, nor do you have to be part of a 501(c)(3) to be an activist. You don’t have to be marching to be an activist. It literally is the soul of who you are for those of us. And usually, activism, empathy in service, all of those things come hand in hand and you can apply those philosophies and characteristics to any job, any career, and any path that you may choose.
Jay Ruderman: You’ve talked a lot about your mother [00:09:30] and the role that she played in your life and raising four children. And you talked about going into school and saying, “Well, I either had to be a doctor or a lawyer.”
Jay Ruderman: Why did you feel like there was no other option for you at that time?
Christine: Yeah. And I think it wasn’t that per se, because my mom was not a doctor nor a lawyer. In fact, she actually worked at Letterman State Hospital for most of my career with the developmentally disabled community and helping [00:10:00] them live more independent lives. But I think that as I defined what society tells us success is, and I have this distinct memory of $100,000. If I make $100,000 a year, then I am successful and I’m winning at life. And I knew that there were two ways to do that, just because that’s what I saw. That’s what you see on TV or in movies. And also there was a very specific path. There was a blueprint to how you get there. And so, because my mom was always working [00:10:30] and she was raising us four crazy girls on her own, and she didn’t go to college.
My mom dropped out of school when she was a senior year in high school and then went back and got her GED. She knew nothing about the college process. One of my older sisters had gone off to school, but she graduated much later. But nonetheless, that whole process of what college was of what finding a career path was, I didn’t have a lot of people around me who were doing a lot of different things for me to be able to not only understand what that job was or that career path [00:11:00] was. But more importantly, I didn’t see a lot of black women. And although my mom is this most beautiful, skinny blonde, white girl, I’m mixed and biracial. But obviously, very brown skinned.
And so I didn’t see a lot of black women in those roles. And that, that was something that I could achieve or knew how to. In fact, the reason, and I always give her a shout out because one of my dear friends in high school, her mom was a teacher. She also was black. And she had been [00:11:30] in honors classes her entire Scholastic career. And I was a junior in high school and she was, “Chris, why aren’t you in honors?” And I’m, “What’s honors?” And so because her mom had been exposed and she had been exposed, then she knew that, that’s what you needed to do to be able to get in to a really good school. And so Kamaria Ward Henry is my girl. And she is the one who exposed me to that. And actually we both ended up going to UCLA after that.
I think it’s [00:12:00] exposure. It’s representation. It’s being able to see it, it’s being able to understand. And then also knowing though that you don’t have to have a blueprint. And I think my career retrospectively tells you, you don’t have to have a blueprint because it certainly wasn’t linear. But the ability to be able to look at this opportunity and then apply a skillset to that, and then look at this opportunity and apply a passion to that, but then figure out your career path while you’re finding your center and staying true to who you are. [00:12:30] That was my entire journey. And so that’s why, I think, I’ve always said that. And so now I feel so blessed to be able to have had all of these different jobs that I literally didn’t know that they existed.
I knew there were sports teams. I knew there were studios. I knew there were networks. I knew there were awards shows. But you never know what goes on behind the scenes, on how the magic is made. And so now that I’ve had the opportunity to pull that curtain back and be able to see it, when I went to go work for, Earvin, at Magic Johnson Enterprises, I didn’t know how you buy a sports [00:13:00] team. I didn’t know how that worked. And now I do, and I can be able to enlighten and share that information with other people who may or may not look like me.
Jay Ruderman: Actually, you’ve talked a lot about UCLA and how important UCLA was to you and your life and still is, and how your advocacy and your passion for empowering others started at that time. But how do we do a better job right now at supporting the next generation of leaders [00:13:30] and empowering them to follow their passions?
Christine: Just show up. Be present, have a conversation. And I think a lot of folks get intimidated by the term mentor or mentorships. And so really, being a mentor is having a conversation, being able to answer a couple questions. And I think the way you show up and make sure that you’re giving back at any point in time, again, I think we’re going to say this probably 8 million times this morning, [00:14:00] Jay, is bigger than me, know that it’s bigger than me. Go into everything with that intentionality that it’s bigger than us. And that, that will come back to you when you put it out there. But that’s what UCLA did for me, it laid that foundation, both on how I could receive back, but also give that back to the world.
And that’s where I really discovered my love and passion for service and for activism, but then also for mentorship because I had great mentors then, and I’ve been able to pay that forward now. It’s critical. Social [00:14:30] capital is amazing. It not only exposes and educates, but it also allows you to be able to change people’s trajectories and help them overcome obstacles that they may not necessarily need to go through per se. A lot of us older folk talk about paying your dues, and trials and tribulations, but I don’t think that’s necessary all the time. I think that you can learn lessons without necessarily having to experience adversity. And I think that’s what mentorship does too.
Jay Ruderman: Right. It’s [00:15:00] so important to play that role. I’m going to ask you a question. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but we did a PSA on authentic representation of disability in entertainment. And Octavia Spencer, did the PSA, talked about the first time she authentically saw herself represented in TV or film. Do you remember the first time growing up that you saw yourself on TV or in film?
Christine: [00:15:30] Yes. My gosh! It’s so funny you say that because while there was a lot of different times I’ve seen black women or all of that, I remember distinctly, it was, God, what was the movie? The Rock. And it was the one where he goes back home and he has the big stick. I have got to remember what the name of it was, but I remember seeing it because he had biracial parents. And for [00:16:00] me, even though my parents got divorced when I was seven and then I reconnected with my father once I was older. But for both the period of time when they were together and then also the period of time when weren’t, me growing up in this beautiful brown skin with a very, very, very white mom, it was always a weird space for me and really trying to see where I fit in the world and to be able to see that on screen, I was. “Wow! [00:16:30] Okay. This really is okay.”
And especially because I’m a generation where it literally just became somewhat okay, where people are comfortable with interracial relationships. I mean, yes, we’ve been here for a while, but folks still have challenges with it sometimes. And so I remember seeing that on screen, I was, “He’s mixed like me.” And then also fast forward to when, Barack Obama, was elected president, I was, “Again, biracial.”
[00:17:00] And so there’s so many intersectionalities of our backgrounds and how we show up in the world. And so for me, those two things, because I’ve always had this interesting place in the world where I was too black for some, too white for others, too this for some, too that for others. And trying to find where you fit in that world. But then when you finally see it, both in office or on the big screen, is a really, really [00:17:30] beautiful thing that says, “Okay, I belong.”
Jay Ruderman: And I think more of us have to take recognition of that and understand the power of that, the power of representation. But on the converse side, how did the lack of representation influence you growing up?
Christine: It was both a blessing and a curse. Because the curse obviously is you feel sometimes as if you’re the only one that you don’t belong. But I think the blessing of it is that [00:18:00] you learn to find your way, and if you put it in the right perspective, then you make it a priority to make sure that other folks don’t feel that way too. And I think that was ultimately the path that I took. Definitely, there were some times when you feel a little alone and you’re trying to figure things out. But for me it became, “Okay, well, then let me go figure this out.” And one of my favorite things is creative solutioning, whether [00:18:30] it be in the workplace, in your personal life, all of these different things, because you find such beauty in the unknown, because you’ve now created something new you’ve creatively solutioned. And so now creatively figured out a way for me to show up in the world, which could be something that another young girl or young man does as well.
And takes pieces from that and then says, “Okay, well, this part doesn’t fit, but this does, so let me create a solution how I show up in the world.” [00:19:00] And so I think those are all aspects of the blessing. That was the lack of representation for me to be able to create that for somebody else. But it’s also heavy sometimes. And there is pressure that for those of us that are as intentional as you and I are about the bigger picture, I carry that weight every single day, and I want to make sure and I’m intentional. And I know on those days that I’m tired or [00:19:30] I don’t know if I have it to give, I think about, okay, who’s looking at me, or who else can I do this for beyond my beautiful son, Christian? But all of those other folks out there.
And I think that’s the blessing of it, but I hope we get to a point where you and I don’t have to have that conversation soon. And we are truly all inclusive and it’s just a conversation about joy.
Jay Ruderman: Right. Well, it’s such a powerful message. And now you’re in a position [00:20:00] where you can actually influence how things look, which we’re going to get into in a little while. But maybe you can talk about some role models that you had growing up, people that really sh shaped the view of yourself?
Christine: Yeah. Well, I say it over and over and I’ll say it over and over again, my mom. Anita’s fantastically resilient. She is such a beautiful, feisty soul. She literally raised four crazy independent women on her own. [00:20:30] And I don’t know how she did it. I’m struggling with my one and she had four of us. And so my mom obviously was one. Growing up, I think there wasn’t whole lot, but as I got older, obviously, Earvin Magic Johnson has been a phenomenal influence on my life. And I love the ones that fly under the radar. There’s women like, Cassandra Charles-Gerst. She was one of my bosses early [00:21:00] on in my career. She led Supplier Diversity for United Technologies. And she actually gave me my real opportunity after I didn’t get into medical school and helped me find that passion.
There was Dylan [inaudible 00:21:14], she was the one who I mentioned earlier, who said, what is your default? And I worked with her while I was at Disney. And so these phenomenal women that fly under the radar are constantly doing this work that nobody ever sees or knows about. I think those were all phenomenal role models that [00:21:30] through my career, I’ve been able to pick their brains. And then there’s a lot of other brilliant folks who have exposed me again to the bigger aspects of the world and how to make an even larger impact.
I always pick from different ones, I love and adore the work that Ava does, Ava DuVernay and how she shows up in the world and how she tells her stories. Cicely Tyson, literally one of my favorite phrases in life is strength in grace. And if you close your eyes [00:22:00] and you think about that phrase, you literally can’t think of anybody else, but Cicely Tyson. Those are those types of women and how they showed up in the different times that they showed up, in the different environments that they showed up and how they defined being a powerful woman in their own right and realm. For me, I’ve learned to pick from each of them and find a piece of that, that makes up this mosaic that is before you today.
Jay Ruderman: Well, you’ve had [00:22:30] these wonderful experience of interacting with people who are real icons, that most of us do not know Magic Johnson, we know to be a wonderful person, but you’ve gotten to know him personally. And it sounds like he’s really been an inspiration to you, in addition to being a colleague.
Christine: Yeah. I first met, Earvin, on the campus of UCLA, which is hilarious because I was working [00:23:00] on campus. I just graduated. I was working on campus, but I was still trying to get into medical school. He’d opened his clinics across the country. And so I wanted to pick his brain because I had too wanted to open my clinics. And so we connected, and at that point in time, it was right when a lot of the NBA players were unfortunately losing a lot of their wealth. And so when he did give me the opportunity to be able to pick his brain about the clinics, we also connected a lot about, how do we help these athletes use their platform [00:23:30] in the same way that Earvin did? And that it’s important to be able to change their trajectories and help them maintain and create more generational wealth in their communities.
And that was one of the philosophical points that we connected on very early on. We parted ways. And then when I was at Disney, again I was charged with increasing the amount of money that we spend with a number of different areas. But one of them specifically, one of my specific goals was black on businesses. [00:24:00] And of course, Earvin had been doing a lot of work in that space. And so I reached out. I’ll never forget. And I took my boss, my boss’s boss from Disney. And we set up a meeting with him and he said, hello to my boss, “Nice to meet you.” And my boss’s boss, who was the acting chief procurement officer at that point at Disney, “Nice to meet you.” And then he said, he’s, “I know you.”
And he grabs me. Uncle Earvin’s forehead kissed me. And my boss and my boss’s boss are looking at me crazy, “You know Magic [00:24:30] like that.” And I was just, well… But that being said, he is that endearing. He always remembers a face. He always remembers an interaction. And he definitely remembers people. And it’s amazing given that gazillion people that he meets every single day. But what’s most beautiful about, Earvin, I think is his heart. And in fact, it was always so beautiful that oftentimes those of us that worked for him on the business side of things, he would go and he’d be, “We’re going to do all of these great, beautiful things.” And then we all had to figure out how to make it [00:25:00] happen. And so after a while we were, okay, we need to figure this thing out.
But his boldness, his vision for economic empowerment within underserved communities and specifically within the black community, from an early point in his career, he used to tell stories about how he’d be on the basketball court and when they were, and I think part of this might be a little embellished, but that’s okay. It always makes for a good story, but he would talk about when they were blowing people out at the Lakers on the court, he would sit there and chat with the court side seat members who were usually icons [00:25:30] and titans in business, and then formed those relationships with them. Then when he knew that he wanted to do a lot more beyond basketball and he had begun laying that groundwork while he was there. All of those are beautiful lessons that I learned from, Earvin.
And again, when we talk about relentlessly reinventing yourself, he started as a basketball player. Then he was one of the first ones to start really owning name and likeness, if you will. He really set the foundation for most athletes in that regard. Then he went [00:26:00] on to his endorsement deals. Then he went on to his licensing and retail and his brick and mortar, which I think a lot of people probably know him best for in the business world then at Starbucks, his TGI Fridays, his 24 Hour Fitnesses, those at the theaters as well. And then from there, he reinvented himself again, because that was right around when the recession hit. And he said he realized he knew he had to diversify his portfolio. He started creating joint ventures and strategic alliances with various [00:26:30] B2B businesses. And that’s when I came into play.
He recruited me to come work for him. And we had a staffing company. We also had a food and facilities management company. In fact, he still has that company. And that’s actually how we connected because he bid on a contract at Disney to feed our employees back of house, both at Disneyland and Disney World. And he held onto that contract for quite some time. Then he went on to supply chain. He even owned a burger, a meat company, a beef company that supplied the beef [00:27:00] to Burger King for your Whoppers for quite some time. And now he’s again, reinvented himself to go into infrastructure funds to insurance companies, and of course, to sports teams. That being said, that type of reinvention and to be able to see that and how it works and to see someone who looks like you to be able to transcend and change their trajectory, all the while, and he always said this, we’re always giving back.
There was always some type of philanthropic [00:27:30] aspect of what we did, which also I love because I feel like, yes, we can all do good with our 501(c)(3)s, but you can also do a lot of good as well, just in regular organizations and corporations too. And that’s what he did every time he did a deal. Those are all the things that I love and appreciate and respect him for. And I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity and privilege to be able to be exposed to and look for.
Jay Ruderman: Well, he sounds like an amazing individual, [00:28:00] super successful and a privilege for you to have spent the time with him. I know you’ve spent most of your career in entertainment and we’re going to get back to the Academy and where you are now. But you spent five seasons working as the COO of the LA Sparks. And what you learned from that experience.
Christine: I love the Sparks so much. I still do. It’s a beautiful legacy of a brand yet it was young. [00:28:30] And it still is. As a sports league goes, 25 years this year in the league is still young as a sports team. And I learned so much about taking a legacy, reinventing it, again, I think that’s going to be another one of our keywords today, but reinventing that brand and refreshing it so that way we can look at the world differently. And what I mean by that is, yes, it’s a Women’s League. Yes, it’s [00:29:00] about women’s basketball. Obviously, there’s some advocacy there that has to happen just by the nature of the business. But what we found in that, and I think it’s a true lesson with where we are in the world right now, is that when you invest in these diverse communities, when you focus on them, when you target them for true partnership, it can truly reap its rewards.
And so what we did is, rather than going the traditional sports route of [00:29:30] constantly trying to convert your hardcore basketball fans, the guys that are following, Magic Bird, Kobe, LeBron. We had tried to convert those folks. In the same time that we spent trying to convert them, we said, you know what? Let’s look at other markets. Let’s look at those socially conscious millennials who are really focused on where they want to spend their money, but still want to have a really good time and have some good disposable income. Let’s talk to those families, [00:30:00] those moms and dads who maybe are a little tired of watching Pokemon. Wait, that might just be me, but have a great place to go and spend some good time with their kids as a family. A family friendly environment.
And then also let’s target those folks, typically women but not always, those that identify as women. But those that may not necessarily be basketball fans, but are fans of women’s empowerment [00:30:30] of advocacy. And of all of those things, let’s make it a fun environment, will make them Sparks fans. And then they may come around and be basketball fans. And in doing that, in targeting those three populations and target demographics or psychographics even, we were able to lead the league in ticket sales. We won a championship. We led the league in attendance as well. We revamped the brand. Our ratings were 30% higher than other male professional [00:31:00] sports teams on our same network. And so we found success in not taking the NBA’s model and throwing a pink bow on it, or all of those things. But really thinking about what does this mean to each individual and how can we translate that into our business, operationalize it? Because once you operationalize, it’s not an initiative, it’s not a marketing campaign, it’s simply who you are and how you do business. [00:31:30] And I think that’s what really is the key to true, impactful and sustainable change.
Jay Ruderman: Do you see women’s sports leagues growing in America and around the world? Do you think there’s a bright future for these leagues?
Christine: I really do. I really do. In fact, there’s a documentary coming out, I believe, on what the women’s soccer team did. But 100% you’re absolutely seeing it. I think there’s two things that are happening. One, [00:32:00] you have a amazing empowered women who are pushing the envelope and no longer settling for anything less than equity. And that’s key, because for a long time we would settle and we would just take that which was, okay, we’ll give you this little piece or that over there. No, we’re looking for equity. And then I think that, and also to correct the inequities that have been for so long. I think the other beautiful thing is that we’re getting a lot more enlightened [00:32:30] men or those that identify as men that say, you know what? There’s nothing wrong with this. And we’re raising them.
Even my son, it was funny because he started going to Sparks games when he was three years old. And he started playing ball too with boys and girls. And so men sports guys would come be, “Who’s your favorite player? What’s your favorite team?” And he’d be, “Sparks. Candace Parker.” And they would look and, “No, no, no, who’s your favorite basketball team.” And he look at me, confused. And he’s, ” [00:33:00] Mum.” And I’m, “They mean men’s basketball sweetie.” And he was, “Okay, Lakers, Kobe and LeBron.” And so to be able to expose kids, boys and girls, that basketball is basketball. We don’t make a distinction between Olympic basketball or college basketball or the big three or any of that. It’s basketball. It’s just the different rules and the different people that are playing it, but it’s all still basketball.
[00:33:30] And so if we start that foundation early and then especially those people that are raising those kids, are raising them in an enlightened way. Then we have a really, really bright future. I think the third piece of it that we still have a lot of work to do on is the general ecosystem. We talk a lot about equal pay and this goes for talent in the entertainment industry. This goes for athletes in the sports industry. But what is the ecosystem? The sponsorships, the media deals, the masters, the ownership, all of those pieces of it. We have to hold everybody [00:34:00] accountable because, typically, it’s not the team owners. It’s not the players, it’s not the talent. It’s not what people think is the most obvious.
It’s, okay, well, those media rights deals that we’re talking about that are hundreds of millions of dollars for some and zero for others. Why isn’t there equity there? And when we talk about sponsorships, when we talk about media exposure, when we talk about journalism, and how many folks are covering these [00:34:30] different folks and their talents that they have, all of that has to also happen, so that way those leaks can truly thrive and be successful as well.
Jay Ruderman: But you, obviously, remain really passionate about women’s basketball. But I want to transition to your role as the COO of the Academy and running the first ever Office of Representation, Inclusion and Equity. Can you tell me about what you and your team are working on?
Christine: Yes. [00:35:00] We’re so excited and we brought on the very talented, Janelle English. We brought her over from the Discovery Channel and she’s been amazing leading the office for us. But there’s so much, Jay, and I think that’s the key because there’s been passion and there has been initiatives prior to my coming here and much work that had been done prior to. But that being said, we needed to look at it holistically. We needed to look at it operationally. We needed to make [00:35:30] sure that we had the discipline. There’s an entire industry around diversity, equity and inclusion as we are seeing now and aspects where you know, which levers you can pull and what impact that will make. We’re doing unconscious bias training for those committee members who bring in members who will be part of our Academy family.
We’ve called the initiative Aperture and we chose that word because we are looking to broaden the lens through which excellence is recognized. And that’s really important because if we’re only looking [00:36:00] through this tiny little lens, we’ve missed all of the beauty and excellence and stories and artists that are out here. And I think we as filmmaking community can really relate to that. That’s part of the changing hearts and minds, having really honest conversations about where we’ve been, about who we are and about how we stand in this industry. We’re default leaders, and we also get the negative. We saw that with Oscar Silhouette, and some of the other challenges that have come with our industry, we’re going to get [00:36:30] the negative aspect of it. How can we not be reactive and actually be proactive leaders and understand our role and how people view us in the industry?
And so the Academy and the board has really taken that to heart. And so in doing so, things like our inclusion standards for best picture, which we have implemented. We’re really, really proud of those. The board and our committees have done such an amazing job. And of course, the staff that have been working diligently to put this thing together. [00:37:00] And also learnings from our colleagues, that was another aspect of our mindset that we had to shift. Historically, we typically would just announce some things that we would do and let the world react. This time we really wanted to be collaborative because we wanted to have a sustainable impact across the entire industry. We are so grateful for the lessons learned from our brothers and sisters at [inaudible 00:37:23]. We went and talked to the major studios, the mini studios, to the guilds. We talked to all [00:37:30] different folks to help us understand how we can really make sure that what we’re doing has an impact.
And so those inclusion standards are really focused on four standards, but ideally, the long story short is that we want to make sure that there’s diversity representation in front of the camera and behind the camera, as well as in the pipeline. And so that way we can continue to ensure that everything that we’re looking at has that broader lens of excellence, if you will. But more important, we [00:38:00] have to acknowledge, we don’t make movies. The studios are making movies and independents are making movies. And so when they get to us, we want to make sure that people understand that this is also excellent. There’s lots of different ways that excellence can be seen.
And so continuing to diversify our membership base, continuing to look at the awards is key. And those are all the cool sexy ones that everybody wants to read about. But some of the stuff that’s just as important because when you do this work, you have to change who you are, like we talked about. [00:38:30] If you’re an activist, how do you make that activism happen in every aspect of what you do? We want to make sure that we are walking the walk internally. And so that’s everything from our internship programs, which we are so honored to have a partnership with you on and the Ruderman Foundation to our suppliers. We launched our Supplier Diversity program this year, which we’re very excited about to ensure that our vendors and our suppliers are diverse as well. And that we’re doing those that we’re doing business with are marketing.
Where are we spending our marketing dollars? [00:39:00] Making sure that we have really good authentic relationships with the media, especially multicultural media outlets, so that way they too, can get some exclusives or get spots on the red carpet, because all of that’s important. Again, back to the entire ecosystem, how can we affect to change in that entire ecosystem all the way up to our investments committee, which is shared by the incomparable, Melody Hudson? But we were able to direct almost 200 million to diverse portfolio managers out of [00:39:30] our investments. These are ways that we’re making sure that we’re walking the walk internally, all the stuff behind the curtain that nobody knows happens at this organization, but is so important. And that’s inclusive, not only of our ethnic backgrounds, our international outreach, those with disabilities, our LGBTQ family, all these aspects of who we are and how we show up are so important to make sure that they’re integrated in every aspect of what we do from our staff to our collections at the library, [00:40:00] to our collections of the archive. And of course our beautiful museum, that’s going to be opening later on this month.
Jay Ruderman: Well, first of all, you’re doing so much and so comprehensively. But I’m also impressed that the Academy has really empowered you and your team to really make a difference. And we talked about the standards for best film, which in some sense, for many people in the industry are controversial. But don’t [00:40:30] you feel that TV film entertainment, really, shapes public attitude, and in some ways more than most industries have an impact on how we see each other as Americans and also as citizens of the world?
Christine: 100%. And again, I can not give enough credit to our Board of Governors and all of our artists and our Academy members. And of course, our CEO, [00:41:00] Don Hudson, our President, David Rubin, have all done so much hard work on this. And we, as the staff are there to help execute, of course, but to stand firm in it because you’re right, there was a lot of criticism, and especially when we’re talking about art. Art is subjective. Art is an expression of oneself. And so it’s very tough. We have to walk that line of not limiting or censoring anybody’s artistic expression or their story. And that’s not what we’re doing. We’re not telling people [00:41:30] what stories they can or cannot say. But what we are saying is that if you’re not painting with every beautiful color in your palette, then you may not have as beautiful of an art piece there.
And so we want to make sure that folks are tapping into every single color in that palette. That way we can create even more beautiful art. And I think if we shift our mindset to all that opens up in possibility versus that, which we’re losing [00:42:00] and the potential loss that one individual may have, I think that’s when people see the opportunity and the beauty and the joy that lies there in. And so, yes, kudos, again, to the born’s instinct fast in it to your point, to be able to empower us to put the tools together so that artists can utilize those tools as well. But also, hats off to the artists that are embracing it and are now telling these stories that we’ve never seen told in the ways [00:42:30] that we’ve been seeing them show up. And that’s a beautiful thing too, and it just makes our filmmaking community strong.
Jay Ruderman: It is beautiful. I want to talk about you personally as the first black and female COO of the Academy, must be a lot of pressure to be the first. How do you deal with that?
Christine: It is because it’s important that I’m not the last right. We heard, Kamala, say that. We’ve heard a lot of people say that. [00:43:00] That’s why it’s important. It’s not important because, Christine Simmons, was the first. It’s important because if, Christine Simmons, is the first and the last, then I have failed and we have failed. And also that it’s not just the first black, we need everybody. We need everybody to be able to hold these positions, to hold space at this level. That way we all have those lived experiences that will inform those organizations decisions, that to our earlier point, [00:43:30] influence the world literally. To me, it does weigh very heavily on me because I know that I cannot fail and that it is important that we continue to break down all of these barriers.
Again, all of this is just simply towards the mission of our organization so that we can create the processes. I can lend my expertise or [00:44:00] the ability to operationalize the good, so the artists can be celebrated. And the art, in the legacy of filmmaking, can be preserved, all of it. It does weigh heavily on me, but you surround yourself with amazing people, with like-minded folks and just to stay in the positive and do the work. And I love the work, but more than the work, I love the outcomes and the impact, and that inspires me.
Jay Ruderman: [00:44:30] You are working in a community that is an artistic community. That is very outspoken. They’re activists also. Talk a little bit about some very prominent campaigns like Oscar Silhouette, the Me Too error, how that impacts your work as being the CEO of a leading organization within the entertainment industry?
Christine: [00:45:00] Yeah. I wasn’t here for Oscars Silhouette, and of course, Me Too has definitely started and evolved both before, and while I was here. I think that those campaigns while challenging for the organizations that are being affected, challenges to be better though. And it challenges us to grow. And it calls the question and you always have to have folks that call the question. I often refer [00:45:30] to this work and it’s analogous to, again, back to my mom world of when you have a kid, they constantly ask you, “Why?” And so when you’re doing something, you have to ask the organization and everybody in it will, why are we doing that? And if we’re doing that, just because we always did it that way, or we always did that, then maybe we want to challenge that because innovation will come from that.
When you have an Oscar Silhouette, we do have to challenge ourselves to look inside and say, okay, how do we evolve? When [00:46:00] our industry has a moment like Me Too, we have to look and say, okay, well, how do we deconstruct all of the reasons and the ways we got here and understand it, but do so with compassionate empathy but also help evolve? Oscar Silhouette, Me Too, isn’t an attack on any one group of people, but it is a way for all of us to ask more questions and to be able to evolve who we [00:46:30] are and where we are. And a lot of it starts with transparency. And that’s what we’re also seeing with a lot of our organizations these days and what the general public is looking for is transparency.
And making sure that they understand exactly the why, because transparency leads to representation and equity. It really does. You can’t have representation and equity without transparency. And so being able to be a part of that to be able to put [00:47:00] a price. I’ve always talked about process. I’m a personality, yes, you are passionate about this, and I am passionate about this. But if you and I leave and we go and retire on some beautiful island somewhere, because we won the lottery, how do we make sure that this work continues? And so how do we put in operational aspects that support equity? Whether it’s standards of conduct that help combat accusations, whether it’s supporting organizations like the Hollywood Commission [00:47:30] of which we are a member as well, which are working to fight against abuse in our industry, if you will, alongside, again, incomparable Anita Hill. Or whether it’s Oscar Silhouette. And we really have to talk to ourselves and say, okay, what is happening and what’s what’s going on? That way we can fix it and fix it faster.
Jay Ruderman: I believe that the Oscars set the standards for [00:48:00] the industry in many ways in terms of the award shows. What are the action plans that are going to promote equity and inclusion in the industry?
Christine: Sure. That was key. When we set out on this journey, one of the conversations we had, and that I shared was that if we do this, it cannot be performative, it actually has to be actionable. That’s indeed where the inclusion standards came out. It’s also the different things that we’re putting in place so that way we not only look [00:48:30] at the next class of members to ensure that they’re diverse, but also the pipeline coming up behind them. Also, you get the criteria. Let’s make sure that our criteria for getting into the Academy, becoming a member, also provides an opportunity for all. And doesn’t reinforce any inequities that have been in the industry that maybe we didn’t create, but we might be reinforcing. Let’s question those, let’s look at them, and then let’s continue to evolve and make sure they’re as equitable as possible.
Jay Ruderman: Right. Well, I think what’s coming [00:49:00] out in our discussion, which I think people are going to be happily surprised is that the Academy is really on top of change, and really, has made that an internal goal for the Academy. Christine, the Ruderman Family Foundation is really proud of our partnership with the Academy. And I did notice this last award ceremony was much more inclusive than they have been in the past. Do you see plans for people with disabilities [00:49:30] to be authentically portrayed both in front and behind the camera?
Christine: That is the dream. That is the goal. And whatever we can do to influence that, is already in the works to be quite honest with you. Yes, we were very intentional about it. We partnered with Google. We are making sure that we had the video descriptions. We literally, reinvented. We worked with our production team to reinvent the ramp. That [00:50:00] way, the way that everybody accesses that stage is the same. And ultimately, that’s the goal. We want just the normal, beautiful, successful joy that we saw on the red carpet with the Crip Camp team. My gosh! It was the most beautiful red carpet moment ever to be normal. And for us not to even have this conversation, so that way everybody can just see what’s happening now. We still have a lot to learn. There were some challenges that we had, and we want to make sure that we… But we are so open [00:50:30] and we want it to be great, because without that, again, you don’t have every single aspect of this beautiful artistic community. That 100% is the goal. And we are continually working to make sure that happens.
Jay Ruderman: Christine, it was a pleasure talking to you. I’m sure we’ll talk again.
Jay Ruderman: Thank you so much. And thank you for being a guest on All Inclusive
Christine: Jay, thank you for having me. Thank you for the work that the Ruderman Foundation does. Thank you for your partnership. It was an honor. Have a great, great day. Thank you.
Jay Ruderman: Thank [00:51:00] you.
All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive. Have an idea for a podcast, [00:51:30] be sure to tweet @JayRuderman.