WEEE ‘breaks ice’ with a discussion about race and gender in entertainment

Nearly 50 Elon students, alumnae and faculty joined the Sept. 15 conversation to discuss on how the Elon community can demonstrate authentic allyship in the media industry.

Elon alumna Nneka Enurah ’11 began last week’s Women of the Elon Entertainment Empire discussion by reminding the nearly 50 students, alumna and faculty in (virtual) attendance that it’s OK to be uncomfortable.

Board members of the Women of the Elon Entertainment Empire and guest speakers gather for a virtual discussion on Sept. 15.

“This is part of the process and it’s how we grow together,” said Enurah, recently named head of development and partnerships at FBE. “If you didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, you didn’t learn anything. Feeling uncomfortable is a necessary part of the process.”

A WEEE board member, Enurah was the moderator for the Sept. 15 virtual event titled “Breaking the Ice,” a discussion exploring ways that the Elon community can help women of color overcome biases in the entertainment industry, as well as how to practice authentic allyship. Enurah was joined by industry professionals Taja Perkins and Rachel Raimist, who shared personal stories, experiences and challenges that they have faced throughout their careers and offered words of advice.

Perkins, a scripted television producer, is currently co-producing Netflix’s “Grand Army,” a show that is expected to be released later this year. Starting as a post-production assistant, Perkins has worked in scripted post production for more than a decade.

A look at some of the attendees of the “Breaking the Ice” discussion.

Perkins spoke about her experiences as a Black woman in the entertainment industry, and how others have often incorrectly assumed she worked in hair and makeup, or was an intern, on sets where she was an executive.

“One day you’re on a show and your boss is a very nice woman and your team is mixed and diverse, and then you can be on the next show, and have a … 15-person team, and you could be the only person of color. You can be the only woman,” Perkins said. “And that has been such a difficult thing to handle.”

A college professor turned director, Raimist was tapped by renowned filmmaker Ava DuVernay to direct “Queen Sugar” for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Since then, Raimist has directed “Nancy Drew” and “Roswell, New Mexico” for The CW. Raimist, who serves on the leadership team of the Latino Committee and the Women’s Steering Committee of the Directors Guild of America, attended the School of Communications’ National Advisory Board meeting a few hours before the evening discussion.

Raimist said she has had similar experiences to Perkins, often told that she was “too big and too loud,” by some and “too soft and too shy” by others on sets. Raimist explained that despite her experiences as a woman of color in media being inconsistent, the community she finds with women of color energizes her.

“Being a woman of color means I’m part of a community that’s bigger that I am,” Raimist said. “That has nourished me, mentored me, lifted me up, and I do the same for other women in my life – in my circle.”

During the hourlong conversation, Raimist and Perkins also spoke to how the members of WEEE can engage in authentic allyship, lifting up women of color on campus and in the workplace.

A promotional poster highlighting speakers Nneka Enurah ’11, Taja Perkins and Rachel Raimist.

“It’s about recognizing your colleagues of color as full, whole people,” Perkins said. “Interactions don’t always have to be about race, but sometimes conversations should be about race.  It may be uncomfortable, but don’t stray away from this.”

Enurah said that as a woman and a person of color, women of color often have compounded experiences. One way white women can help women of color, especially in the workplace, is to step forward when a female colleague of color is in a situation of racism or discrimination.

“As a white woman, if you see a woman of color being gaslit, the act of stepping up and speaking out makes you a true ally,” Enurah said.