By Cris Abrego, Co-CEO, Endemol Shine North America and Co-Chairman, Endemol Shine Latino, and author of “Make it Reality: Create Your Opportunity. Own Your Success.”
A few years ago, I returned to my high school in El Monte, Ca., to give a commencement address.
When I was speaking to that year’s graduating class about the ins and outs of the entertainment industry and a scholarship foundation I’d recently launched with my family, I realized many of the students at my alma mater had no idea where they were going next.
Many of these kids, mostly Latinos like myself, had no clue even where to begin. And the thought of pursuing a career in Hollywood, which is literally in their own backyard, seemed nearly impossible.
I remember looking into the bleachers that day during the commencement proceedings and thinking so many of those faces looked like just like mine. I’d sat right there too, some 25 years before, but somehow I had made it out.
I didn’t have any friends or family in the television industry and I didn’t go to a fancy college—I simply loved television and knew that somehow, someway, I was going to get involved in the medium.
And here I am now, having created my own successful TV production company 51 Minds Entertainment and now serving as the Co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America and Co-Chairman of Endemol Shine Latino.
The contrast from those bleachers back at my high school to where I sit today, looking out over Beverly Hills from my studio office, is pretty stark. Throughout my career, I very rarely saw anyone that looked liked me. Sure there are a few Mexican celebrities including Eva Longoria, Mario Lopez and George Lopez. But there definitely are not many, if any at all, on the executive side.
I have gotten to know Eva, Mario and George well—likely because there are so few of us in the industry. And George and I often talk and share our stories and paths into the TV biz. We also discuss the young people in the areas where we grew up and the help that they truly need to succeed. One day George said something to me that really hit home. He said, “You can’t tell your story enough, you need to continue to let those kids know IT IS POSSIBLE.”
I thought long and hard about that. And I was subsequently offered the opportunity to write a book about my career and the lessons I’d learned along the way. So here I am today.
I know there has been a lot of talk recently about diversity in our business, and I couldn’t be more excited that these conversations are happening; it’s something that is incredibly important to me. But we can’t be focused on one aspect of diversity, trying to just fix what it looks like on screen. We need diversity in all areas—directors, writers, producers and especially in the executive ranks.
We need diversity, because it will bring new voices to the table and more importantly, it will bring new stories to light and that’s what literally drives our business.
I’ve been fortunate that reality TV has allowed me to tell a lot of stories with quite a few faces of color. And I will tell you that reality TV was not the genre that I set out to be a part of. But I love it all the more for having let me create opportunities that weren’t open to me elsewhere. I love reality because, as its title proves, it holds up a mirror to something that is REAL.
The power of an unscripted show, especially in the early days of the genre, was that the people in the shows are playing themselves. They’re not characters saying words they wouldn’t normally say. Reality show stars—“real” people and celebs alike—engage us and elevate us by holding up a mirror to our everyday hopes and fears.
I remember after Flavor of Love and Rock of Love became hits, whenever I was at industry events, people would always ask, “Where do you find those people!!!” Like if it was some big secret, and I would tell them, “It’s easy, you just have to leave the city.”
Well, last week I went to my alma mater once again, this time to share my new book with the current crop of students. We held an assembly and I gave all 1,500 members of Mountain View High in El Monte a copy of the book and I told my story.
And thanks to George Lopez, I plan on telling it as often as anyone will listen.
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