Community//

How Tom Donahue and Ilan Arboleda are Helping To Make Film And TV More Representative Of The US Population

… In THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING we trace the history of discriminatory practices in Entertainment and go into detail on how the industry has failed as a whole for more than 50 years to adequately enforce TITLE VII — the legal protections from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that specifically defines the employment protections for women and […]


… In THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING we trace the history of discriminatory practices in Entertainment and go into detail on how the industry has failed as a whole for more than 50 years to adequately enforce TITLE VII — the legal protections from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that specifically defines the employment protections for women and people of color.

Second — demand parity from the agencies, unions, studios and networks.

And Third — make change with your wallet. Go see films directed by, written by, and starring women and people of color. Invest in them succeeding and more of those stories will be told.


As a part of my series about leaders helping to make Film and TV more representative of the US population, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Ilan Arboleda and Tom Donahue. Tom Donahue’s latest film as director is This Changes Everything, an investigation of systemic gender discrimination in Hollywood (including interviews with Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes, Cate Blanchett, Taraji Henson, Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman and many others). The documentary received much critical acclaim film earning descriptors such as “searing” (Washington Post) and had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018. It will be released in theaters in the first half of 2019 by Good Deed Entertainment. Donahue’s Thank You For Your Service (“Gut wrenching… important” — The New York Times) examines the failed mental health policy in the military with interviews including General David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Loree Sutton. It premiered at DOC NYC in November 2015, was released theatrically by Gathr in 2016 and acquired by Hulu in 2018. In 2014, Donahue’s Emmy-nominated HBO feature documentary Casting By was hailed as one of the Top Five Documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review and hailed as “Outstanding” by Leonard Maltin. That year, it also won the Gracie Award for Outstanding Documentary of the Year from the National Alliance of Women in Media. His other directorial works include the darkly comic documentaries, Davi’s Way (“a raw portrait of the underside of the entertainment industry.” -Movie Guide) and Guest of Cindy Sherman (“A work of art” -Variety; 5 Stars -Time Out) for the Sundance Channel. His work as producer include the recent HBO documentary, Bleed Out (“Brutal, unmissable viewing” -Paste Magazine), and critically acclaimed projects such as Man Push Cart (Official Selection — Sundance 2006 and Venice 2006), Nick Sandow’s Ponies (New York Times Critics Pick) and the feature documentary, Highway Courtesans (Official Selection — International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam and SxSW). In 2003, Donahue produced and edited Alfredo de Villa’s acclaimed debut feature, Washington Heights, winner of five Best Picture awards at festivals worldwide. He also has extensive experience as a creator, producer, director and editor in television and is a founding partner of the New York-based production company, CreativeChaos vmg. He holds a degree in Film Directing from SUNY Purchase College in New York.

Ilan Arboleda is the producer and co-founder of CreativeChaos vmg. His latest film, This Changes Everything will be in theaters this summer. At the company, he has been the primary producer on the award-winning films, Casting By (HBO, Netflix), Thank You For Your Service (GATHR, Hulu, Amazon), Bleed Out (HBO), and Davi’s Way. In addition to his duties as the primary producer, Ilan oversees all creative development, business development, finance and operations for the company. He was also a producer on the breakout hit film, Kedi, one of the highest grossing foreign language documentaries of all time. Ilan was previously COO and Executive Vice-President for three years at Go Go Luckey Entertainment, a television production company with more than two dozen series and hundreds of hours of programming on networks both in the US and abroad. There, he also oversaw strategy, digital content, international sales, and the film division. From 2003 to 2009, Ilan was the managing director at Cinapse, where he developed funds, slate funds, and produced one-off films in the US and in several other countries. In 2005, Ilan was a co-founder of Dynamo Capital, which today is Colombia’s largest finance and production company. Ilan’s films have appeared in over 50 film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Miami and New York and have been released in over 60 countries around the world. He holds a degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

We founded CreativeChaos vmg with our partner Steve Edwards at the beginning of 2010 with a mission to do something different. When our first film with the company, CASTING BY, created direct change in Hollywood, it inspired us to do more. Since then, our films are always intended to be a catalyst for social action — that the films themselves can move the dial on the important cultural and political conversations we need to be having.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

We knew that our films were starting to have a real impact when after an in-depth interview, a US Congressman pulled us aside and told us that he was bought and sold, but that he could tell us the real story of how Congress is bought and sold and that he was willing to continue a conversation with us to get the truth out. That told us that storytelling, the films that we make, matter. They matter to the public, they matter to our elected officials, and they matter to ensure a functioning democracy.

Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

Our latest film, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING, which comes out in theaters this June, is literally about this issue. In the film, we tackle the lack of gender parity in on-screen representation and why that matters, not just in Hollywood and the US, but globally. In order to understand and change the skewed underrepresentation of women and girls in media, we needed to get to the bottom of the history of employment discrimination for women behind the camera. This employment discrimination issue resonates across all industries and sectors. This film and the social action we do before, during, and after its release will create a movement for change.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Our prior film, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, is about the lack of proper mental health care and the urgent need to create a Behavioral Health Corps in the military. In the film, we profile an amazing veteran named William Rodriguez who had suffered the terrible effects of multiple tours of duty in the Iraq war. When we met him, he had successfully furthered his education and embarked on a career in social work, but he was at a crossroads. His experience in the film and our subsequent journey to take the film around the country from community to community, gave him a new purpose and a new career.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in film and television and its potential effects on our culture?

Diversity in film and television is important for a number of reasons. First, by not selecting from the largest possible pool of people, you are self-selecting based on bias instead of the pursuit of excellence. In Hollywood, that hurts not only on-screen representation, it also hurts the corporate bottom line.

Second, if there is a lack of diversity on screen, women and young girls literally don’t see themselves. They don’t see themselves reflected in society or they see themselves reduced to a cultural stereotype. That has a direct effect on how they move through the world, how they engage with possibility, and it can severely limit potential. That has a compounding cultural effect.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

First — Please make sure to see THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING when it’s in theaters and online. In it, we trace the history of discriminatory practices in Entertainment and go into detail on how the industry has failed as a whole for more than 50 years to adequately enforce TITLE VII — the legal protections from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that specifically defines the employment protections for women and people of color.

Second — demand parity from the agencies, unions, studios and networks.

And Third — make change with your wallet. Go see films directed by, written by, and starring women and people of color. Invest in them succeeding and more of those stories will be told.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, leadership is defined by the willingness and ability to do the right thing when it’s not in your own best interest or it goes against the accepted conventions of your community.

In our film, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING, we profile John Landgraf, the CEO of FX Networks. When it was revealed in the press that FX was the worst offender among all networks when it came to diversity, he was embarrassed and dismayed. However, less than a year later, he had completely turned the company around to become the most diverse network. The result is 50 Emmy Nominations and greater financial success than ever before. He made a unilateral decision to be the change that he wanted to see.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. In a town built on ambition, make sure to enjoy the process of getting to success, because that is the true success, not the goal itself. There was a moment, when shooting THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, we were on a plane traveling to meet a key whistleblower. Knowing that we were on the verge of having our film, we looked at each other and said, “we could always be doing this.”
  2. The ability to execute is everything. There’s no one example. It’s systemic. Too often people don’t follow through on what they say or promise. All that matters is follow through.
  3. Always show up and you’ll never fail. In our film, CASTING BY we spent three years getting on camera interviews with The greatest living Hollywood legends. We were told “no” or “not now” countless times. However, we always maintained contact and always made sure that they knew we had interest, and eventually everyone we wanted went on camera.
  4. Having a great network is not the key to networking. It’s the ability to create new networks out of nothing over and over again that will make you a great networker. Every time we make a feature documentary, it’s a deep systemic dive. Usually it’s in an area — casting, military, gender, the national health care system — where we know no one and more importantly, no one knows us. But we are relentless and we eventually establish a web of people, resources, and contacts that not only go on camera, they become our great allies, supporters, and friends. It’s not our existing network that allows that to happen, it’s that we are unafraid to build new ones.
  5. Stay away from the Craft Service table!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Any movement that could move the dial on climate change. We haven’t covered the topic in our work, but there is no greater crisis to humanity than climate change. Since the entire planet understands that except for a small group (relative to the population of the world) of deniers that have a stranglehold on one political party in the United States, we would want a movement that brings the crisis directly home to those who deny it the most (whether it be a film or something else). They will continue to deny until they can personally experience it or be empathetic towards those who experience it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When we made the film CASTING BY, we became great friends with the legendary casting director Lynn Stalmaster. He has one mantra — “always be open”. It resonated with us. In all our work, our mantra is to “always be open”. It continues to serve us well.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

We interviewed the great Quincy Jones a few years ago. A 30 minute interviewed turned into a four hour marathon session of stories, philosophy, and music. We’d give anything to do it again. Let Quincy know!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow us at @creativechaosvmg on all social media.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

How Madeline Di Nonno of the Television Academy Foundation is helping to make Film and TV more representative of the US population

by Yitzi Weiner
Community//

COMMUNITY: How Our Desire for Connection is Shifting the Landscape of Digital Marketing

by Mike Zeller

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.