By Anna Harrison, FN alum '21
Just a few weeks ago, the FUTURE NOW Media Foundation, Inc. held the sixth annual FUTURE NOW Media and Entertainment Conference. Over three days, FUTURE NOW hosted panels and keynotes from industry leaders to usher in the next generation of talent in the entertainment industry, giving them the tools to help them succeed and the means to help them grow.
Day One kicked off with a conversation between FUTURE NOW CEO and Founder, Peggy Kim, and Adriana Waterston, the Chief Revenue Officer and Insights and Strategy Lead at Horowitz Research, a leading consumer insights agency. Waterston, true to her job title, shared keen insights on the state of the industry as the landscape continues to shift. “Change is imminent,” Waterston said. The decline of cable and the rise of streaming has changed the way the entire landscape works, from ad sales to production, and international shows like “Squid Game” have proven that formerly “unprofitable” markets can succeed out of their home country.
“Before, ‘mainstream’ was code word for white, non-Hispanic… Now, mainstream media is becoming much more diverse,” Waterston remarked. “Real, honest representation in media… matters. Your stories matter,” she continued. “Hopefully, you all will bring [your own stories] to the table when you enter this media world… You have great value to this media industry that we’re in, and I welcome you to bring that to the table as you enter your future careers—today, tomorrow, and every single day.”
With those words, we moved onto other moderated panels including “The New Creator Economy,” about new avenues of content creation, and “Emer-Gen-Z: What I Learned in My First Five Years,” a panel featuring Gen Z perspectives on the media landscape. Other keynotes were with Kris Hayden, the first Black woman to win a national diving title, and Courtney Thomasma, the General Manager of AMC+, who reminded everyone that “failure is not fatal. It’s actually essential for continued growth and success,” a sentiment echoed by Hayden, who said, “Once I’m down, I learn from it. This is only temporary.”
Day two featured some of the most anticipated events, including speed mentoring sessions and two more keynote speakers. Danielle Brown, Senior Vice President for Data Enablement and Category Strategy at Disney Advertising Sales, spoke about her own unique path—while she initially wanted to be a creative, she found herself drawn to data and analytics, though “it took a while for me to showcase my abilities in a way that wasn’t just doing the work… Being my own cheerleader was a challenge for me.” Brown ended her keynote by encouraging listeners to “put yourself out there, take risks, and try new things.”
That afternoon, Star Trek: Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green dropped by to discuss her journey to become the first Black female captain of a starship in the Star Trek universe. “My mind was blown,” she said of her casting. “I had no idea where I was going to go next [after The Walking Dead], but I had faith that it was going to work out.”
Faith has been a constant for Martin-Green, who grew up in Alabama thinking she wanted to be a psychologist until she auditioned for a play in the tenth grade. “I felt this warmth from the top of my head to the bottom of my body and I felt like, ‘Woah. This is what I’m supposed to do with my life,’” she said of her first performance. After getting a theater scholarship to the University of Alabama—despite bombing her audition—Martin-Green’s career began in earnest, and through her success, she has remained grounded, something she attributes to her faith.
[God] is what keeps me grounded. That is what keeps me balanced,” she said.
On the final day, Kristina Shepard, Head of Agency Partnerships and National Brand Team Lead at Roku, told listeners to “lean into your mistakes [and] always be learning [from them].”
In her closing remarks, Peggy Kim imparted thought-provoking words on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion with a quote from iconic director Federico Fellini: “You have to live spherically—in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm—and things will come your way.”
“We have a responsibility in this,” said Kim. “If you think about your own circles… and the circles that you are running in and who makes up your community, are you limiting yourself or are you extending yourself so that your community… is diverse also? …We can’t expect some corporate entity to do this if we ourselves are not doing this in our own individual lives… I want to challenge you to take this quote and apply it to your life and lead—lead in your own life, be the example and demonstrate the thing that you want to see happening on that larger scale.”
While the media and entertainment industry might seem daunting, FUTURE NOW has shown us once again that there is a whole host of people out there willing to help you if you show up and put your best foot forward.
It is not an exaggeration to say that FUTURE NOW has changed my life—here’s to it changing yours, too.