Jeanell English has opened up about what forced her to recently leave her role as executive vp of impact and inclusion at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences following a year confronting an industry distrusting or outright criticizing calls for change.
“I sat in the crossfire between the communities I was advocating for and those I was calling on to champion change. On both sides, there was fear,” English wrote in a L.A. Times column published on Tuesday.
English was promoted to the then-newly created position in July 2022, reporting directly to Academy CEO Bill Kramer, as she helped address underrepresentation across the industry for greater inclusion and equity.
She recalled encountering resistance to collaboration and change early on, which she says ultimately undermined her personal and physical health. “I became the recipient of a steady flux of micro- and macro-aggressions… I felt the pressure of remaining thoughtful, poised and articulate while coaching, counseling and responding to the needs of my colleagues also from marginalized communities and nursing my own wounds. The level of consensus-building needed to establish a foundation for the changes I encouraged demanded a level of mental agility and fortitude that was unsustainable,” English recounted.
She pointed to successes at the Academy, including reforming Oscars campaign rules and introducing workshops to bring members into “new, uncomfortable dialogues.” But these gains came alongside significant setbacks.
“My successes ultimately came at a cost — to my mental and physical health, my personal life, my joy. And what is life without joy?” English added. She argued those seeking institutional change distrusted that English had their best interests at heart, while those in positions of power feared being toppled.
“There were people in positions of power who feared change, feared losing relevance, feared losing money… and feared being canceled,” English wrote.
The result, she says, was an industry impasse.
“It prevented artists, executives, advocates and allies from being able to sincerely listen to understand without becoming defensive. And it provoked resistance to collaboration and creative thinking, a stance that slowed or halted shifts not only at the Academy, but across the entire industry,” English said of a zero-sum game that grew up around opposing sides in Hollywood.
English joined a string of diversity and inclusion executives who have left their posts or been laid off recently, including Warner Bros. Discovery’s Karen Horne, Netflix’s Vernā Myers and Disney’s Latondra Newton.