As the Warner Bros. Discovery shake-up continues, it's important to note that it's not just films and television series that are getting the ax; it's people too. Now that the two studios have merged, new CEO David Zaslav is actively trimming projects that don't fit into his vision for Warner Bros. Discovery moving forward; and this has been all the more apparent by steps taken to merge HBO Max and Discovery+ into a single, streamlined, streaming service.
The latter decision is one that still has consumers scratching their heads, as HBO Max and Discovery+ couldn't be more different: a reality that the powers-that-be at Warner Bros. Discovery are more than aware of.
As the plan to combine the two services continues to progress, the studio has purged a number of projects from HBO Max in recent days; and with each cancelation comes a slew of layoffs.
While that alone is unfortunate, it seems that the employees who have been let go are largely people of color, raising questions about whether the studio is aiming for a single demographic in its pursuit of a singular streaming service.
New Fears Concerning HBO Max's New Direction
According to The Daily Beast, the growing lack of diversity at HBO Max may be a result of the studio's new ideological position and an attempt to appeal more to right-wing audiences.
Former HBO Max employees have revealed that as many as 13 people of color have been laid off from the streamer in recent weeks. Among those individuals are Jen Kim, the former senior vice president of HBO Max's international team, and Jen's colleague Kaela Barnes.
Staffers suggest that, apart from the executive vice president of drama, there are few non-white executives within the upper ranks of content as of now; and, as one former executive noted, "I don't think anyone knows just how white the staff is."
Another former executive explained that the recent wave of layoffs has actually "amplified the lack of diversity at HBO" and "HBO is the most homogenous:"
“HBO is the most homogenous part of this umbrella. Instead of trying to figure out how to integrate some of the [Max] executives into HBO, they just made this sweeping cut of three divisions: kids, family, and international. A lot of Black and brown people lost their jobs.”
Warner Bros. Discovery's money-saving priorities and its new sense of direction were first manifested earlier this month with Batgirl's sudden and shocking cancelation.
The fact that the film was scrubbed in favor of a tax write-off was frustrating enough, but there was an additional concern given that the HBO Max film starred Afro-Latina actress Leslie Grace.
In subsequent weeks, a number of other DC-related projects have been dropped or removed from the streamer, along with select animated shows, dramas, and even episodes of Sesame Street.
This was followed by CNN host and media correspondent Brian Stetler, known for his anti-right wing position, being let go.
It appears that former Warner Bros. employees believe the studio is attempting to reshape its public perception and aim for a more centric audience; but in doing so, it's leaving the studio with less diversity and more of a right-wing position than that of the left.
Does Less Diversity Equate a Wider Audience?
In pinpointing where these decisions are coming from, one needs to understand Zaslav's vision for Discovery+, which is largely reality-based entertainment with a broad, general appeal. No politics, no new ground, no unique creative voice - just general, casual entertainment for a casual audience.
If Zaslav is looking to fold HBO Max into this mold, it's likely more financially motivated than politically since, in the CEO's mind, broad appeal equals more money.
The problem, however, is that in aiming for that broad appeal, not everyone can play; and that's when it becomes politics.
In reality, studios can have their cake and eat it too. Marvel Studios' Ms. Marvel on Disney+ and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings proved just that. Both featured Asian and South Asian casts and crews respectively and both leaned into their character's culture and traditions. While these projects were glowing examples of representation, they still managed to appeal to a wide audience.
How? Both projects focused on characters who were inherently human. Audiences can't help but relate; and while the world may look different, their human struggles are relatable.
Now, if Warner Bros. Discovery wants to avoid being perceived as political or right-wing, they're doing a poor job of it.
In addition to how heartless Warner Bros. Discovery appeared in its handling of Batgirl, the number of people of color who have lost their jobs and the volume of projects that have been canceled certainly doesn't give the impression that the studio is prioritizing diversity or representation. If anything, the optics suggest the opposite.
Whether the studio's ideology in its handling of HBO Max is political, or simply the result of spreadsheets, remains to be seen. But in the end, the result is the same: fewer voices and points of view.