On Saturday, Orange Is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco, This Is Us star Susan Kelechi Watson, and Candice Patton — Iris West on the CW’s The Flash — sat down with moderator Cameron Esposito for a conversation about mentorship and women of color in entertainment at Vulture Festival LA’s Movers and Shakers and Mentors Presented by AT&T Hello Lab. The trio touched on a wide range of topics, from the importance of getting more people of color behind the camera to the impact of director Ava DuVernay’s commitment to black representation (Ava DuVernay is a mentor to the entire panel, whether she knows it or not!), and Susan Kelechi Watson would like to offer a piece of advice to white Hollywood power players: It’s okay to admit you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to depicting black women onscreen. In fact, it’s the secret path to success.
To illustrate her point, Watson recalled a decision made by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman. While overseeing the edit of a heated argument between two black female characters on an episode written by writer Kay Oyegun, he began to wonder if the edit had “peeled” the characters down into stereotypes. “‘I was a white guy watching this,’” she recalls him saying. “’And I don’t know if I’m seeing this through the right lens.’” Rather than just forging ahead, Fogelman leaned into his uncertainty and asked several black women, including Oyegun and fellow writer Eboni Freeman, to double-check his blindspot. Explained Watson, “He admitted that there is a limitation and that is leadership as well, when you realize you have a limitation.”