Harvardwood Co-Presents: 50 Years After the Kerner Commission: Can Entertainment Inspire a New Will?

February 23, 2022 at 8:00pm - 9:30pm


Over 50 years ago, the Kerner Commission was convened by President Lyndon Johnson after protests and rebellions in over 150 American cities in the 1960s. The Commission concluded that the cause of the disorder was “white racism.” In the words of the Commission, “It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens – urban and rural, white and black, Spanish surname, American Indian and every minority group.” Over the last 50 years we have assembled considerable evidence on what works to reduce racial injustice and economic inequality – yet we have not implemented all of those policies in part because we have not fully achieved what the Kerner Commission called “new will” from the American public.

Please join Hollywood, Health & Society as our panelists discuss these issues and the way forward. The webinar is being co-presented by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Trustees of the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, the Writers Guild of America, and Harvardwood.

There will be special remarks from Alan Curtis of the Eisenhower Foundation, and Norman Lear.

JELANI COBB (moderator)—Jelani Cobb has been a contributor toThe New Yorker magazine since 2012, and became a staff writer in 2015. He writes frequently about race, politics, history and culture, and edited The Essential Kerner Commission Report, a condensed editionof the landmark study for which he wrote a new introduction. His most recent book is The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress (2010). A professor of journalism at Columbia University, Cobb won the 2021 Walter Cronkite Award from the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center for his PBS Frontline report on policing in Newark, N.J., and a 2015 Sidney Hillman Prize for his columns on race, the police, and injustice. He was a Pulitzer Pulitzer Finalist in Commentary in 2018.


KENYA BARRIS—Kenya Barris is creator and former showrunner of the ABC comedy franchise Black-ish. He also executive-produced Netflix's #BlackAF, Grown-ish (Freeform), and Mixed-ish (ABC). In September 2021, he unveiled a deal with ViacomCBS to launch the BET Studios content production venture in partnership with Parks and Recreationco-star Rashida Jones and writer-producer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas. Barris is also launching a music label through Interscope Records, and co-wrote a Richard Pryor biopic for MGM, starring Eddie Murphy and Jonah Hill, which is currently filming.


ELLE JOHNSON—Elle Johnson is a TV writer and author. Her credits include police procedurals such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, and The Glades. She has also written for a number of character-driven series, such as the critically acclaimed civil rights drama Any Day Now (Lifetime), Ghost Whisperer (CBS), Saving Grace (TNT), and the groundbreaking series The Fosters (Freeform). She was co-showrunner and executive producer on Netflix’s limited series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, starring Octavia Spencer, which won an NAACP Image Award in 2021. Elle was also a writer and executive producer on the Amazon original series Bosch, based on the Michael Connelly detective novels. Her first book, The Officer's Daughter: A Memoir of Family and Forgiveness (2021), was published by Harper Collins. It’s the story of a family, a terrible tragedy, and the power—and ultimately the freedom—of forgiveness. The New York Times called it an “immensely moving book.”


TARA DUNCAN—Tara Duncan is president of Freeform and the newly created Onyx Collective, a content brand under Disney General Entertainment that is committed to inclusive storytelling from creators of color and underrepresented voices. Under the umbrella, she acquired the award-winning documentary Summer of Soul. Onyx Collective’s first scripted project, the legal drama Reasonable Doubt, was also recently ordered to series at Hulu. At Freeform, Duncan oversaw the series debut of Cruel Summer, which is the network’s most-watched series ever; the fourth season of the Emmy-nominated hit comedy grown-ish; the third season of the critically acclaimed Good Trouble; and the comedy Single Drunk Female. Previously, Duncan was at Hulu, where she was developing an adaptation of the Zakiya Dalila Harris novel, The Other Black Girl. Prior to that, she was a senior creative executive at Netflix, overseeing Orange Is the New Black and Narcos.

FRANKLIN LEONARD—Franklin Leonard is a film and TV producer, cultural commentator, and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of the Black List, the company that celebrates and supports great screenwriting and the writers who do it, through film production, an annual survey of best unproduced screenplays, screenwriter labs, and more. More than 400 scripts from the annual Black List survey have been produced as feature films, earning 250 Oscar nominations and 50 Academy Awards, including four of the last 13 Best Picture awards and 11 of the last 24 screenwriting Oscars. Franklin has worked in feature film development at Universal Pictures and the production companies of Will Smith, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, and Leonardo DiCaprio. He was the recipient of the 2019 Evelyn Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America East for bringing honor and dignity to screenwriters. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). 

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