The Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S) is part of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s program. It provides the entertainment industry with accurate, updated, vetted information on health, safety, and security storylines. It partners with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has many donors.
I spoke with Kate Folb, Director of the organization, as I missed her at the ATX TV Festival. I caught up with her in her car on Zoom to find out more about the organization. She’s well equipped to direct the efforts of HH&S as Kate formerly worked with foundations and non-profits, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, on entertainment education and celebrity involvement in national media campaigns.
Pro-education teaches TV viewers about the realities of women’s health (including the lack of funding in many states for issues ranging from abortion to breast cancer, especially lacking amongst the brown and PoC populations), gun safety, and security.
So what does HH&S do? Kate explained.
“We look at how health, safety, and security impact audiences. I run the Hollywood, Health & Society project directly and work with content creators to ensure accuracy around their depictions of anything related to health, safety, and security.”
I was particularly interested in breast cancer and how that is relayed on TV and in film, especially of women of color who statistically suffer more and receive less treatment than their white counterparts. Additionally, it is an issue that touches me personally since two of my closest friends passed away from the disease.
Kate gave an example. “A few years ago at the Writer’s Guild in New York, we held a panel discussion with a CDC expert, showrunners, writers, and Beau Willimon, who was then the showrunner for House of Cards, and an African American woman living with breast cancer. She said when she was growing up and watched a news story or an entertainment clip about women with breast cancer, she thought they were white. This lady felt it didn’t apply to her as it was a white woman’s disease. She didn’t know about getting mammograms to prevent the disease.
“While watching the show a few months after that panel, I heard a character on House of Cards say, “Do you know that Black women are way more likely to get breast cancer due to lack of treatment? I called Beau and asked if he put that line in after the panel. Sure enough, that’s what happened. This whole storyline took place in Texas. They were trying to build a clinic in a Black neighborhood to serve women who had breast cancer. That woman told her story, and we gathered stats from the CDC. She didn’t even know she had breast cancer until it was too late at Stage IV.”
Incredibly (to this writer), until a few years ago, the CDC was banned from studying gun violence as a public health issue. I wondered who was behind that. The NRA? Other polls directly involved in the profiteering from the sale of assault and other weapons? “I can’t answer that,” said Kate. Perhaps that is a story for another time?
On the issue of guns, storylines were researched and presented in their Trigger Warning: Gun Guidelines for the Media resource. In Grey’s Anatomy, a child gets a hold of a firearm and shoots his friend. A discussion around the tragedy ensues. That is an example of how HH&S’ work winds up in a show to inform, hopefully enlighten, and educate the public for its greater good.
For more information on the organization, please visit https://hollywoodhealthandsociety.org/
Photo credit: Picture of Kate Folb by Tammy Perez