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Annenberg Inclusion Initiative launches new focus on reproductive health and political storytelling

Flanked by a powerhouse group of luminaries, the project will monitor popular entertainment content for issues related to reproductive rights, marriage equality, interracial relationships, and gun violence and offer insights to create change.

Amidst protests and fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, one group is taking a step to examine how often reproductive health topics, marriage equality and interracial relationships, voting issues, and gun violence appear in a specific context: entertainment. 

“With the curtailing of reproductive rights, it is not only necessary to find legal solutions to protect marginalized communities, but it is essential to educate and inform audiences about these topics,” said Stacy L. Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. “Entertainment has a unique ability to reach viewers and provide that education. Our goal is to illuminate how many opportunities there are to use storytelling as a tool to expand the conversation and create substantial attitude and policy change.”

Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative routinely publish studies on inclusion in the entertainment industry. Today’s announcement moves the group’s work in a new direction to examine indicators related to reproductive health, voting, and gun use. The move also expands the initiative’s existing research to a deeper focus on romantic partnerships and family depictions of the LGBTQ+ community and across racial/ethnic groups.

The announcement is in response to the restriction of legal abortion access for women in the United States and will also address comments made by Justice Clarence Thomas in his supporting opinion on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. A strong response from across the entertainment industry has emerged to support the initiative’s new work. Notable individuals working on screen and behind the camera have lent their support, including actors Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Eva Longoria.

Executives from several industries, including politics and academia have also signed on to support the Initiative’s work, including : Universal Music Publishing Group’s Chairman CEO Jody Gerson, Spotify’s Chief Content and Advertising Business Officer Dawn Ostroff and Congressman Joaquin Castro.

In addition to measuring entertainment portrayals of these political topics, Smith and the initiative plan to develop and disseminate solutions for change. Drawing on Smith’s expertise as a media effects scholar, the project will provide a set of evidence-driven best practices for content creators across the entertainment spectrum. Moreover, from its position at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is uniquely poised to speak to these issues and incorporate the perspective of the next generation of leaders and content creators. The initiative plans to share its solutions at a convening of college students and industry leaders following the release of the report.  

Another solution from the initiative is the launch of a reproductive rights Accelerator program to support undergraduate film students whose work focuses on the topic. Funded by several members of Women Moving Millions, the Accelerator program will provide a minimum of three students with $25,000 in funding to support script development and production. 

“Through this Accelerator program, we hope to support storytellers as they address some of the most pressing issues that will face their generation. By leveraging the power of entertainment, these students can shape the hearts and minds of their peers and broader audiences in ways that can influence culture and decision-making,” said Monika Parekh, president of Psquared Charitable Foundation. More information on the Accelerator program will be announced this Fall. 

With their work, Smith and the initiative join a long line of scholars and advocacy groups working to answer questions and address societal inequities on these topics. 

“The entertainment community plays a critical role in educating people about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion,” said Caren Spruch, National Director, Arts and Entertainment Engagement, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who is supporting the project as one of the foremost thought leaders on reproductive health in storytelling. “With Roe v. Wade overturned and birth control, LGBQT+ and other rights threatened, this new Annenberg Inclusion Initiative research project will provide an invaluable tool to ensure audiences are reached with medically and legislatively accurate storytelling about these issues. And, importantly, it will track the progress made. As we fight for every person’s right to bodily autonomy, working together with the Initiative and its supporters will be essential to changing the culture to achieve this goal.”