Interview with : Keli Lee, Executive Vice President of Talent & Casting at ABC on Diversity In Hollywood
Updated on: 18 Nov 2015
Despite seeing her face plastered on billboards across the country all summer, every Sunday evening when I tune into ABC's hit show, Quantico, watching Bollywood star, Priyanka Chopra as the lead character still gives me goosebumps.
After almost a decade in the US as a South Asian woman, finally seeing a character who resembles my ethnicity in mainstream US pop culture validates my American identity.
The urgent need for diversity in TV and film is no secret. In May, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged investigations into systematic sexism in Hollywood, and the situation is only worse for women of color.
However, the ABC network is single-handedly offering a ray of hope. Currently, it appears they are the only network banking on diverse stars, and not just for the token ethnic face cameo, or roles that reenforce stereotypes.
In addition to being home towriter-producer powerhouse, Shonda Rhimes, who owns an entire evening of Primetime TV with three shows (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal & How To Get Away With Murder), ABC cast stars like Sofia Vergara to Viola Davis and most recently, Indian-born Chopra in their TV career-defining roles.
Much credit for the network's successful strategic vision goes to ABC's Executive Vice President of Talent & Casting, Keli Lee. I spoke with the woman behind so many strong female characters about literally changing the face of American TV.
Anushay Hossain: You are in charge of discovering the ABC network's biggest and most diverse stars fromKerry Washingtonto Lupita Nyong'o to Sofia Vergara. What does it take to find great talent?
Keli Lee: I have an incredible and diverse team, and we are constantly looking for new faces and personalities that can shine on the screen. The ability for an actor to resonate with an audience is an instinct for me. I both look deep into the person to see their on-screen potential, while I also work with the studio and network to create the right roles and programs for talent that we believe in.
Hossain: ABC is really one of the only US networks casting women of color in lead roles. Tell me about ABC's Talent Showcase & why you created it?