December 16, 2019
Academy News

Members Toast Diversity and The Holidays at 
the Hollywood Holiday Celebration

Academy members celebrate diversity and the season at a festive gathering.

Libby Slate

Santa hats, sparkles and good spirits were the order of the evening when Television Academy members gathered for a festive Hollywood Holiday Celebration, December 11 at the Academy's Saban Media Center in North Hollywood.

The tone was set immediately upon entering, when an eye-catching corner fireplace, its garland-festooned mantel bearing a mini-Christmas tree, two menorahs and a family of nutcrackers, elicited happy "oohs" and "aahs" from guests; the setting instantly became a favorite photo spot.

Click to enjoy the photo gallery of the festivities.

On an opposite wall, a large wreath hung above a cluster of candles and silver-and red-wrapped presents, while in between, a group of leafless silver trees adorned with lights provided a bright wintry backdrop for organizers' remarks. The event was presented by the Academy's Diversity Committee as a year-end get-together underscoring the industry's practices of diversity and inclusion.

"I love the decorations!" proclaimed Performers peer group member Clarissa Thibeaux. "It feels like home," in Northern California. "The tree is so cute." The actress had bought her intricately patterned off-white lacy blouse specifically for the celebration because, she said, "It looked like a snowflake."

Thibeaux was standing at a table with fellow performer and college friend Katie Rich. The two had come to the party together, but the two pals and the three other Academy members sharing the table had only just met each other – which didn't stop a lively conversation from flowing. "This is wonderful. Everyone is so engaged, everyone's having a good time," Rich observed.

The other three – Todd Szuch (Daytime Television peer group), Dario Kahm (Motion & Title Design) and Nicole Emerson (Writers) agreed. "I invited [Thibeaux and Rich] over because they looked friendly," said Szuch, who was attending his first mixer. "I liked her skirt. It looked very festive," he added, referring to Thibeaux's bold red plaid garment.

And continuing the holiday finery, Kahm's shimmery tie and pocket handkerchief square were almost a perfect match for Emerson's blouse. A mixer veteran, Kahm likes the policy of members only, no guests, because, he said, "I'm an extrovert, so I thrive in this kind of environment, but for those who are introverts and cling to their plus-ones, they never branch out and network, so this is a good opportunity. There's no focus except meeting people."

Elsewhere in the room, performers Meredith Thomas and Dawn Grabowski echoed Kahm's sentiment. Recalling her first holiday mixer several years earlier, "I was so nervous about coming by myself, because I didn't think I knew anyone in the Academy," Thomas said. "But I reconnected with an old boyfriend, who's an executive producer in reality TV. He was able to look at one of my scripts.

"And right away someone started talking to me, and as the night went on, I met so many interesting people, mostly outside of my peer group. I was forced to talk to people I didn't know. That was my very first mixer, and it was perfect."

Grabowski also enjoys meeting non-performers because, she said, "otherwise, you tend to run into the same people. This way, you have the opportunity to say hello, and find out what they're working on. From a creative as well as a colleague point of view, it gives you a different perspective. I think it's wonderful."

The evening actually wasn't just about meeting people; it was also about enjoying the spirits at the bar, passed hors d'oeuvres, assorted grilled cheese sandwiches and sliders at food stations indoors and out and desserts. And the brief remarks, by Diversity Committee co-chairs Rickey Minor and Nicole Marostica and Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Scherma, were both celebratory and remindful of the evening's theme.

"Happy Holidays to everybody!" Marostica said. "We're looking forward to a phenomenal year ahead. We're thinking about what events to do for next year, and the only thing that we need is your support, and showing up to those events, meeting people and doing exactly what you're doing tonight: having a good time and getting to know people in the industry."

Added Minor, "This night is about celebrating not only what our art form is, but celebrating each other, and knowing that we are more alike than we are different. We hope that in this giving time that we always remember that kindness and love will always win."

Scherma thanked everyone for coming out: "We appreciate your support." Away from the podium, he noted that diversity and the holidays go hand-in-hand because, "I think a diversity message should be always and it should be everywhere, and a holiday party is a fabulous way to bring so many people together from so many different places. What better way to show diversity and love and things that matter, than to bring everybody to a big holiday event?"

Indeed, Marostica, who is vice president of publicity for Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Marketing, even brought people from her company to introduce them to the Television Academy and make connections. "This time of the year is all about thanksgiving. That's when I want to reflect about how lucky I've been, and that's when I want to give back," she said.

"I come from humble beginnings, and I worked really hard to get my foot in the door. It's important to remember that there are others who still need that foot in the door. I'm doing something I've always wanted to do, and never thought it was possible. It's possible. And for them, it's now possible. Encouragement is important."

For his part, Minor, just back from Washington, D.C. where he'd been music director of the Kennedy Center Honors, noted, "We've got so much going on behind the scenes, and the Academy has been so supportive, but we didn't want this year to pass without having some kind of gathering, because it's important to the community to know that, if you work in this business, the Academy is your home.

"Let's have a celebration, a mixer where people can still get together and not feel, there was nothing for me this year that I felt at home with. This is about all of us. It's for everyone.

"People are so interested not only in diversity, but inclusion," he added. "They want to be included. I don't know how many people have come up to me tonight and said, 'How can I help? I believe in what the Academy's doing, and I want to be involved.' The industry is becoming more inclusive.

"People feel there are scripts being written that are reflective of who they are. The opportunities are there. And with all the platforms, it's really opening wide up. So I think that people are encouraged, knowing the Academy is behind it all the way."

Television Executives peer group member Nancy Joon, who is also a host and actress, would agree with Minor. "As a Korean American, as an Asian American, this is an incredible time for diversity, everything that's happening with the Asian-American community – Crazy Rich Asians, Searching with John Cho," she says.

"I feel like it's finally our time to make a difference, and represent. There's been a great big push, a lot of great Asian-American content. It's an exciting time."

And there's another feeling besides excitement, one that Joon's friend Leslie Thurston (Performers) had observed this evening. "It's the holidays – everyone's in a great mood," said Thurston, who was bedecked in sparkling snowflake earrings. "They seem hopeful. People seem to be walking around more with a lot of hope."

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