By Daniel Blackman, Columnist and noted leader in the energy and entertainment arena
In the heart of the New American South lies a place where history, culture and entertainment intersect to create an undeniable force of creativity and change. Georgia, with its rich Civil Rights legacy, burgeoning sports scene, diverse live events and booming film industry, has emerged as a blueprint for how the world of entertainment can be a catalyst for both short- and long-term cultural transformation.
Like most of the American South, Georgia has a past woven with the threads of struggle and triumph—a story that has shaped the present and influenced the future. From the Civil Rights movement that reverberated across the nation to the establishment of a dynamic cultural scene, the state’s history acts as a foundation for the transformative potential of film and entertainment.
Additionally, metro Atlanta has become a melting pot of sports excellence and diversity. The National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and Major League Soccer (MLS) all have found a home here, bringing people together regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.
And, as sports enthusiasts from different walks of life have gathered to celebrate championships from the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta United and the Georgia Bulldogs, they inadvertently contribute to the idea of a more united Georgia, where all 159 counties, not just metro Atlanta, can partake in the shared prosperity of a creative state.
Not surprisingly, Georgia has become a hub for live events and concerts that celebrate its rich cultural tapestry. For example, in 2023 alone, some of the more notable festivals include the “SweetWater 420 Fest,” “Shaky Knees Music Festival,” “Atlanta Jazz Festival,” “Sweet Auburn Music Fest” and the “ONE MusicFest,” which boasts Kendrick Lamar, Janet Jackson and Meg the Stallion.
But if you really want to measure the impact of our flourishing state, look no further than Beyoncé, who added a third show during her “Renaissance Tour” stop in Atlanta at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, due to the fact that fan demand for tickets exceeded the number of available tickets by over 800%.
The bottom line is that our state resonates with a variety of sounds that have influenced and shaped music globally. Festivals and concerts act as forums for dialogue, providing platforms for artists and audiences to connect and learn from each other.
Yet, at the heart of Georgia’s entertainment success story lies its thriving film industry. The state has lured Hollywood to its doorstep, becoming one of the most sought-after filming locations in the world.
The secret to Georgia’s success is not just its picturesque landscapes and versatile settings like my hometown of Columbus or the Town at Trilith—it is the people, the infrastructure and the commitment to cultivating an environment that fosters growth, creativity and positive change.
Knowing all of this, I believe what makes Georgia truly stand out at this critical moment in American history is its ability to use the entertainment industry as a force for both short-term impact and lasting change. Think about 1996, the year Atlanta hosted the “Centennial Summer Olympic Games,” the largest event in the city’s history. The iconic event helped establish Atlanta as the business and sports capital of the Southeast.
Similar to the Centennial Games, the film and entertainment industry has not just brought global attention and investment to Atlanta, but increasingly throughout the rest of Georgia. And if the rise of film and entertainment is to be Georgia’s next watershed moment, films must continue to be a great medium to inspire or serve as a tool for societal change.
Georgia’s unique combination of sports, culture and music will only amplify how audiences experience film and entertainment. It will help to shape our collective emotions, exposure to new perspectives and, most importantly, how rethinking the industry can serve as a medium for filmmakers, producers and communicators to bring more awareness to certain issues or causes. It will do all this while helping to change the hearts and minds of people regarding urgent topics.
But it will not be easy. There are a few actionable steps to consider how Georgia’s film and entertainment industry can lead the charge in shaping a more inclusive and dynamic world:
The film industry can prioritize diverse voices and stories, representing a wide range of cultures, experiences and backgrounds. By telling stories that resonate with audiences from all walks of life, Georgia can set an example for the world on how entertainment can promote understanding and empathy.
Education and Outreach Programs
Establishing programs that bring together industry professionals, local communities and educational institutions can nurture the next generation of talent. These programs can help marginalized communities find their place in the entertainment world and inspire future generations to pursue creative careers.
Georgia’s film and entertainment industry can continue to invest in building a diverse and inclusive workforce. This means not only on-screen representation but also behind the scenes—casting a wide net for talent and ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute.
Collaboration Across Industries
Georgia’s unique blend of sports, entertainment, music and culture offers opportunities for collaborations that extend beyond the confines of each individual sector. Creating interdisciplinary projects that combine various forms of art and expression can foster innovation and open up new avenues for change.
Community Engagement Initiatives
By actively engaging with local communities, the entertainment industry can make a direct impact on the lives of Georgia residents. Supporting community events, providing resources, and offering mentorship can strengthen the bond between the industry and the people it serves.
Philanthropy as a Catalyst for Lasting Change
In the vibrant tapestry of Georgia’s entertainment renaissance, there is a thread that weaves through time—a thread of philanthropy. Much like that of the legendary industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who believed in using his wealth to create real and permanent goods in the world, Georgia’s philanthropic community and wealthy donors have an incredible opportunity to fund the future of film, culture and collaboration. It can embody the philosophy that “with great wealth comes great responsibility.”
Carnegie’s philosophy of giving was anchored in addressing the root causes of societal challenges rather than merely addressing their symptoms. He aimed to create self-reliance and empowerment, offering a hand not just in charity, but in elevating individuals and communities to independence. He once said, “Wealth is not to feed our egos, but to feed the hungry and to help people help themselves,” embodying the essence of his philanthropic mission. He recognized that wealth came with an inherent responsibility to uplift those in need, fostering self-sufficiency and enabling society to thrive.
In the grand scheme of things, Georgia must cultivate and advance its new found success—a success that defies boundaries, challenges norms and reshapes narratives. Georgia’s philanthropic community possesses the means to echo Carnegie’s vision of feeding the hungry and aiding individuals in helping themselves.
Knowing this, and with our rich history of civic engagement and a commitment to positive change, Georgia’s philanthropists have the power to take the entertainment industry to new heights. By embracing these ideas, I believe the philanthropic community is uniquely positioned to lead the way in establishing Georgia as a global force that goes beyond screens and stages, shaping society and empowering individuals for generations to come.
Just as Carnegie’s vision was measured by the belief that wealth carries the responsibility to uplift, so too can Georgia’s philanthropic leaders play a pivotal role in weaving the fabric of a brighter, more inclusive future.
As we look to that future, let us draw inspiration from Georgia’s story—a story that teaches us through the lenses of sports, entertainment, music, film; and a resounding commitment to inclusivity. Georgia truly has the potential to inspire our world, while harnessing the power of the Creative Economy for good, and we must embrace that. It is not just about the film industry—it is about shaping the very fabric of our society through the magic of creativity and collaboration.
So, let’s take a page from Georgia’s playbook and work toward a new entertainment century, one that leaves a legacy of transformation and unity for generations to come.
About Daniel Blackman
Daniel Blackman is the Senior Advisor for STEM Recruitment and Diversity of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
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