As Tinsel town pays tribute to Viola Davis, Idris Elba, Octavia Spencer, and Morgan Freeman for their work on the silver screen, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council solidified its commitment to diversity in media and communications by honoring three trailblazers in digital media.
Dennis Leoni, acclaimed director of Resurrection Boulevard and Los Americans, and Issa Rae, Creator of Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, received MMTC’s Digital Media Pioneer for Social Justice Awards. Tanya Lombard, Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs, AT&T, was bestowed with the Champion of Digital Equality Award.
Leoni, whose career in storytelling has evolved over the past 25 years to include writing, directing, producing and marketing films and television series, has a unique way of capturing the Latino aesthetic. Inspired by his grandmother, whose love for country Westerns served as fodder for his exploration of the arts, Leoni’s work with Los Americans is a testament to the power of relevant programming to change outcomes in people’s lives. In addition to being entertaining, Los Americans chronicles the lives of a middle-income Latino family living in Los Angeles trying to make ends meet. Themes like unemployment, dignity, immigration and family unity are interwoven throughout a compelling narrative.
Lombard, one of the driving forces behind The Black List – portraits of 50 of the nation’s most distinguished African Americans – has been a long-time advocate for telling the stories not often seen in mainstream media. “She’s changing the face of Black America,” said Marc Morial, President & CEO of the National Urban League, “and she’s helping to make our communities more visible on the national stage.” Lombard also worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in promoting In the Hive, Robert Townsend’s latest film focused on the ability of education, technology and community to empower young black boys to become successful men, despite the odds against them. Most recently, she collaborated with Forrest Whittaker in creating public service announcements about the transformative power of broadband and its potential to positively impact communities of color. “In a word,” Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network, told Politic365, “she’s dynamic, and a force to be reckoned with. She knows this space, and plays in it well.” Through her efforts, it is clear Lombard is committed to ensuring minority communities understand the power of broadband and use it as a tool of self-improvement and empowerment.
Like Leoni and Lombard, Rae has taken her passion for creating entertaining representations of people who look and think like her and turned it into one of the most popular web series online. Boasting more than five million viewers, Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl has struck a unique chord with people across the country seeking something different than the cookie-cutter flavor of the week often found on network television. Creating a model that is funded by its viewers, ABG (as its affectionately called by fans) exemplifies how entertainment and entrepreneurship can coexist in our increasingly digital economy.
By honoring Leoni, Lombard and Rae, MMTC looks to reaffirm the importance of the extraordinary work by people like them in positively changing how we see ourselves and how other people perceive us as well.
The work of MMTC’s Digital Pioneer and Champion of Digital Equality recipients lays the foundation for creating stronger communities in a digital era.