How Evelien Kong Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative

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Would have been great if someone had taught me how to handle difficult talent or people on shoots. That is always a variable and it’s a major part of the job. Someone said to me once, as a Producer, your job is not to add to the drama–it’s to manage it. I would have loved for someone to have summed that up to me early in my career–but also show me how to do it.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Evelien.

Producer and Director by day Evelien Kong founded Reppin Podcast with more than 25 years of experience and a myriad of credits that range from producing award winning documentaries with MTV to crafting digital content with Law and Order SVU. She’s worked with Hollywood heavyweights like Mick Jagger, Mylie Cyrus, Jimmy Fallon, Kerry Washington, JJ Abrams all the way to President Biden. As the founder and host of Reppin, Evelien is committed to sharing stories of people from all walks of life and cultures to bring true representation to the media.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, hello! Thank YOU for having me. It’s lovely here. I love what you’ve done with the place! I’ve been working in television, entertainment, and media for well over two decades. So going into podcasting was a natural and exciting extension. The idea of my podcast Reppin was a fusion of many ideas that I’ve had over the years. With all the complicated things that are happening in the world right now, the divisiveness we’re experiencing, and the creative opportunities that a podcast allows, I felt the timing was right to start. My goal was to produce something that would be entertaining, interesting, meaningful, and hopefully serve audiences, too.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Well in television, there have been SO many–and SO many stories I cannot tell as they will get me in a lot of trouble. One story I can share was when I was still in the early stages of my career, I went to shadow my senior producer who was going to do a shoot with Beyonce. At that point, I had never shot or used a camera before, so I wanted to go and learn. He was in a different part of NYC, and he asked me and the Production Assistant to meet at the lobby of Beyonce’s hotel and we’d go up together. The PA and I arrived and waited for my senior producer. My phone rang and it was him. He said, ‘ I’m stuck in traffic, but Beyonce is ready, take the camera, hit the red button and I’ll be there as soon as I can. Good luck.’ I was stunned and absolutely terrified. My PA helped me get the camera set up–with my legs shaking, my heart pounding in my ears. I went up to her room, introduced myself and creviced myself in the corner of the room and started filming. Beyonce came up and said hello, chatted a bit–I think I managed to squeak out a hello, nodded a lot, smiled, and tried not to pass out. She was absolutely lovely, as was her whole team. I remember I just kept staring at the camera screen to make sure it was recording properly, I kept my composure and stayed tucked in the corner. And that’s how I learned to shoot. Baptism by fire. I may have lost years of my life that day–and needed a drink afterwards, but thankfully, things worked out–nobody noticed that I was a newcomer. Beyonce was really amazing to work with. I learned not just how to operate a camera, but always be professional, and another extremely important lesson was be ready to think on your feet–things change–you need to be ready and you need to figure out how to make things work.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m still making mistakes in general! And it’s important for me that I’m always learning in all avenues of my life–professionally and personally speaking. With my podcast, thankfully, there haven’t been any real gaffes because after working in production for so many years, my experience easily translated into producing my podcast. So I’m very grateful for that.

I will say, I am always trying to hone my craft–with interviewing and producing–there’s always room to grow. However, I had to and still have to learn how to be a good host–those are very different dynamics there…so that’s been new. I’m also learning marketing, some technical aspects, and a lot of the backend things that go into a series as a whole. These are completely new areas for me.

Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

Representation has sort of become a “buzzword” without really taking in the full impact of what that can mean to people. For me, (and I’m generalizing here) it really comes down to SEEING someone. Giving someone or a community recognition and validation. I see you and you matter. My working in media allows me to spotlight and create avenues for communities, ideas, perspectives, voices, and really any underrepresented group to be heard and seen.

As a storyteller who works in podcasting, I know the reach is enormous. I feel a responsibility and love to bring different experiences that exist around the world, because I’m not only acknowledging those groups of people or voices, (and I also get the chance to learn about them). I’m also bringing a small window of exposure to those who may not have access or awareness of those communities or stories. It’s a great opportunity for me to try and reflect and amplify universal threads that connect us all. I want to do all I can to empower others, encourage unification, love and hope, and inspire understanding and equity through sharing lived experiences, because we can all learn from one another. We can build one another up–if we do that on a large scale, a stronger, more powerful, dynamic, loving society can come out of that.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

That’s a tough question. That’s something you’d have to ask audiences. Please let me know when you find out.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

Seeing, understanding, and celebrating diversity makes us better, stronger, and richer in every way. With diversity represented, we can have wider perspectives, become better informed, and have a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in with more accuracy. The more knowledge and accurate information we have, the better decisions and choices we are able to make.

I’ll distill it down to the bare bones–you are what you eat right? Well, the same goes for this. You are what you consume socially, what you read, watch, etc. If you ate a turkey sandwich with nothing on it–just turkey and bread for the rest of your life, every meal, one, you’d be pretty sick of it, but more importantly, you’d be unhealthy. Your body needs other things to thrive. It’s the same with experiences, ideas, and perspectives. They allow you to have more to draw from and understand–making us stronger, more informed, well rounded, and healthier.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

In terms of addressing representation in the industry, the people in power need to be open, aware, and take steps to be sure that there are qualified and talented people of all backgrounds in all different positions. Diversity should be in all the various positions from corporate, studio and network, to creatives all the way up to top leadership positions. Making sure that there are allies who will recognize and support the importance of these positions and make them available to underrepresented people and groups is important. The qualified talent pool is there, you just need to look for them and allow them the opportunity.

It’s also really important to ensure you have writers who have lived experience with whatever your storylines are as this helps them be authentic. This also helps characters that LIVE on screen to be grounded in reality. These critical steps not only create better entertainment but do a lot to address the lack of diversity in the industry.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

It’s leading by example. Walk the walk. Being a leader isn’t about giving orders. Leading comes down to showing–doing–living it–being it. So professionally and personally speaking–your work ethic, your attitude, how you speak and interact with people, how you treat someone, your approach, how you manage and problem solve, how you build others up and allow them the space to do their best. I think these are ALL ways to be a leader.

Be kind, respectful, and be open to collaboration. Listen to others that are in their respective roles and consider their skill sets and opinions. Don’t ask anyone to do anything you personally wouldn’t. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. If problems arise–which they always do–address them with a cool head and work to find a solution–together. Care about what you’re doing and care about the people around you. Leadership is never about power or heirarchy–it’s about collaboration and teamwork and being.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Podcasting is a TON more work than I anticipated. Even after so many years in production, I underestimated how much work and time it would take to produce my podcast.
  2. I wish I had given myself much more lead time than I did when I started. When I first started, I recorded maybe 3 episodes and was editing and putting them out while I was still trying to produce future episodes. Big mistake. Give yourself a solid few months at least, record WAY ahead and in bulk. Not only will you need the time so you don’t stress yourself out, but inevitably, other life priorities will come up and demand your attention. So, if you don’t anticipate all of those factors, you’ll be playing a constant game of catch up.
  3. This ties into my other point, but knowing more about all the things I needed to do all at once would have helped me a lot. Instead of taking some time to learn marketing and outreach strategies, or planning out my art, I did it all at once. It’s been a lot of learning on the fly.
  4. Always be open to learning from everyone-regardless of position. Doesn’t matter if it’s the caterer, the grip, the PA, all the way to the EP. You can learn from everyone.
  5. Would have been great if someone had taught me how to handle difficult talent or people on shoots. That is always a variable and it’s a major part of the job. Someone said to me once, as a Producer, your job is not to add to the drama–it’s to manage it. I would have loved for someone to have summed that up to me early in my career–but also show me how to do it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That is very very kind, but that’s too lofty of a title, and one I cannot take on. What I would say, which seems small, but can influence a lot of people, is this: be a good, kind, compassionate, empathetic person–someone who is willing to be open and listen and learn and give others a hand up. Live the example you want to be. When people see you exemplifying all of these characteristics, they will see how they can do the same, how it FEELS to be on the receiving end, and how it FEELS to be the one extending compassion to others. Never lose sight of humanity.

As for representation and diversity–and supporting underrepresented perspectives–go watch, listen, share, and support any projects by underrepresented creators on tv, on podcasts, films, or other forms of entertainment.

At the end of the day, the world is about business. So for example, a film like Crazy Rich Asians got the attention it did because it did extremely well at the box office. It was seen by a lot of people–which is SO critically important and it made a lot of money. The more money it makes, the more opportunities will arise. So, go spend the money to support creative projects that are done by and/or feature POCs. Also, go support people and projects that are positive and fuel your soul–that’s a wonderful cycle to be a part of. The more you give and project positivity, love, and compassion, the more you receive and it multiplies. So LIVE and be the person you want to be and treat others how you would want to be treated. Be consistent with who you are and your values.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

William Jennings Bryan: “Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for. It is a thing to be achieved.”

You have the ability to craft the life you want, for the most part. If you have something you want, a goal, you can sit and dream about it…and it will stay a dream. Or you can get up off your ass and work to make it happen. That is your choice. I’m not quite as eloquent as William Jennings Bryan, but that’s my New Yorker interpretation of it. If you want something, you better be ready to work and work your ass off for it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Breakfast or lunch?? Gosh SO many. SVP Kamala Harris, Doug Emhoff (1st Gentleman) Lady Gaga, Officer Eugene Goodman, Christine Blasey Ford, Alexandria Ocasio Cortes, Madonna, Keanu Reeves, Oprah, Michelle Yeoh, Kate Winslet, Oprah and Michelle Yeoh again because I really love them….Ang Lee, Mindy Kaling, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Ariana DeBose…Jon Stewart ( I was actually his intern 1000000 yrs ago) Angela Kang (Writer, EP of Walking Dead) Steven Yuen, Linda Hamilton, Patty Jenkins, but I mean…there are so many that’d I would love to have breakfast and/or lunch with. Luckily, I’m also always hungry. So I’m available!!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My podcast Instagram is @reppin_podcast

There will be exclusive behind the scenes goodies on each of those social platforms. And say hi!!

I love hearing from people!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank YOU so much!!

How Evelien Kong Is Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.