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On this episode of All Inclusive Emmy Award Winning TV Host Zuri Hall joins Jay to discuss inclusion in the entertainment industry, what it’s like to work in journalism, and the future of the industry.
Jay Ruderman (00:05):
Journalism has changed a lot in the last decade with the boom of social media. Our guest today knows that better than anyone.
Speaker 2 (00:20):
All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation and social justice with Jay Ruderman.
Jay Ruderman (00:31):
Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman. And on today’s show, we’re excited to have Emmy award winning TV host Zuri Hall. Zuri, Thanks so much for joining us today on All Inclusive. So you’ve been covering the Black Lives Matter movement and interviewed people like Dr. Melina Abdullah, the cofounder of Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles. What were your takeaways from that interview?
Zuri Hall (00:54):
My biggest takeaway from talking with Melina is just that there’s movement happening, but there’s still so much change to be had and what’s really encouraging is the fact that so many people now are getting on board. You think about the time, maybe two, three years ago, and just the phrase, the sentence, the hashtag, right? Black Lives Matter, had such a charge for certain people who were offended by it, or couldn’t understand why someone might say something like that as if that’s such a radical statement. And I think now people are realizing the essence of the movement, the truth of it, which is all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter. And that’s what this movement is about. And that’s what Melina made really clear in our interview. So that was important to get across.
Jay Ruderman (01:39):
Well, there’s obviously something happening in our country. I’ve been to a couple of protests locally, even this weekend, I was driving with my wife in rural Massachusetts, and we were stopped by a protest and this was a town that probably had almost no black residents. And there were hundreds and hundreds of people out there protesting for Black Lives Matter. So I think, in the United States, in almost every city in town and in the world, people have reacted to the injustice of the murder of George Floyd and other black people who have been killed at the hands of the police. So I think that there is something bubbling up to the country. Unfortunately, it took several really terrible murders for this to happen, but I do sense that there is a social justice change happening in our country right now.
Zuri Hall (02:33):
A hundred percent, I totally agree. This shift is definitely happening. I hope it continues with this momentum. It definitely feels as if we’re moving forward together for the first time, it’s encouraging, it’s motivating, it’s great to see that. And I hope we see more of it, but this definitely feels like a shift that will be permanent. And I’m grateful to be a part of reporting on it.
Jay Ruderman (02:55):
You report mostly in the entertainment industry. Do you feel that the entertainment industry is waking up? I mean, they’ve had other instances in the past with Oscars So White and there’s been, other movements. Do you feel that there is a wake up call where corporations and studios are now saying, “Okay, there’s something happening in America that we need to respond to?”
Zuri Hall (03:20):
Yeah, I do feel like Hollywood is waking up. I mean, even though the stories that we’re telling are changing and evolving and shifting even here at Access Hollywood we’re having the conversations of how can we be a part of amplifying those black voices of sharing black stories? And not just black stories. This moment is ours. This is a moment that we need to be focusing on, but diversity and inclusion, transcends us, it transcends just black people. This is a fight that’s extremely important and there are other fights too and I think our industry is finally waking up to that and the difference is, I think the industry has known for a while, but you can be aware of a problem and still not be committed to really fixing it.
Zuri Hall (04:08):
And these marginalized populations, black people included, but other marginalized groups I think are just really tired of the lip service, tired of the poster boy or the poster girl that says, “There’s our check mark. We hit our diversity or inclusion quota for the day, the quarter, the year.” And we’re really wanting fundamental change from the top down. And it’s been encouraging to see, vice-presidents, executives who have advocated for diversity inclusion for a while in our industry, be promoted, have talent who have fought for diverse and inclusive stories, have their voices really heard and their pitches really considered in a different way now, so the needle is definitely moving.
Jay Ruderman (04:55):
That’s awesome. I hope it continues. Can you tell us a little bit about, where you grew up? Did you have any role models when you were younger that that sort of inspired you to take the career that you assumed?
Zuri Hall (05:07):
Yeah, so I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. I went to The Ohio State University, go Bucks, and immediately after graduation, I jumped right into local news and kind of just climbed up the local newsletter for a few years before getting my big break. My first national gig at 25 out in New York for Fuse TV. Growing up role models, I mean, it was really my family that motivated me. I know that’s kind of a little bit cliche, but I never really had a poster on the wall of anyone that was my North star when it came to navigating through the industry that I knew I wanted to be in. It was the hard work that I saw my mother and my father put in, my mother’s father, my Papa, they just taught me the value of ambition.
Zuri Hall (05:54):
They taught me the value of education, especially higher education and integrity, more than anything. The value system I was instilled with that’s really been the North star through this industry for me. And so I’m grateful for that. The biggest role models I’ve had are just my parents loving me and supporting me and letting me do all of the crazy things I wanted to do as a kid. I was just like, “I’m going to Hollywood, I’m packing up, I’m going to LA.” And they’re just like, okay, how do we support this girl and her dreams that are so different from maybe what they were expecting.
Jay Ruderman (06:32):
It sounds like you had a really supportive family and you’ve entered into an industry, which is not an easy industry, as you know. Was journalism something you were always interested in? Was it a passion of yours?
Zuri Hall (06:44):
I was always interested in the truth and in what was just, and right and fair from a very early age, I’m talking like six, seven, eight. I didn’t necessarily think that it would steer me into journalism in the sense of covering truth and really pushing for honest and real coverage of stories that are affecting us. To be honest, I kind of fell into it. I’ve always been passionate about entertainment, about being on stage. I’m a theater geek. So I grew up in theater, when I won my first position in television presenting, it kind of happened by chance. I fell into a role after competing for my first job out of college. And I got a one year deal with that local TV station. And I realized, well, this is really fun. I’ve always loved singing and acting and producing and writing, but I’ve never thought about covering people who do this also as a livelihood.
Zuri Hall (07:40):
And it was a place for me to show my personality. I got to entertain people still, but also inform them. And then when I moved to Dallas, Texas to anchor for the Evening News down there for the CW affiliate, that was my first encounter with hard news and I wanted that experience. I wanted to be at an anchor desk. I wanted to be covering important stories and current events in a factual unbiased way. And that’s where I got to work that muscle. So I kind of went with the momentum and over time fell into journalism. And it’s been great because even now that I’ve come back to Hollywood, which was always the end goal, I see a lot of what’s happening and try to report a lot of what’s happening through that journalistic lens that I developed when I was doing hard news back in Dallas, Texas.
Jay Ruderman (08:27):
So when you were in Dallas, were there ever any stories that you were covering where you’re like, “Oh my God, this is just really difficult to cover.” I used to be an assistant district attorney. There are cases that came into court that were just heartbreaking, or maybe it struck you in a personal way that you were just like, this is just too hard.
Zuri Hall (08:49):
Overall I think just the general death and destruction and corrupt nature of humans at times, it was disillusioning to me there, for sure, because you’re taking those stories home with you every day and you don’t just shut off your empathy or your human emotion because it’s time to check out. So that did cause a bit of emotional exhaustion, but I would be honest in saying there was no one story that I can think of quickly I’d have to really rack my brain, that was probably about seven years ago, eight years ago that I was down in Dallas, but it was just the overall feeling of reporting on really difficult things that kind of took a toll on me.
Jay Ruderman (09:33):
Journalism in general is a very dangerous profession. People who are out there, whether they’re foreign or where they’re local, I mean, I’ve been watching many of the protests and there’s been several journalists who’ve been detained and arrested. I mean, it can be a very dangerous profession.
Zuri Hall (09:51):
It can be dangerous. And that’s why I feel like, the media personalities, the hard news personalities who commit to doing that work, they’re putting themselves literally on the front lines of these important stories to get us the information that we need. And I respect that so much. I was honored to be a part of it for a short amount of time, but that one year in Dallas really just made me gain an entirely new level of respect and admiration for the journalists who are committed to doing that work because it’s important. And especially in a day and age of fake news and crazy headlines and people are so quick to get things out and be the first to a story that they’re not even operating with the journalistic integrity to get the story right. And so the people who are committed to doing that are more important now than ever.
Jay Ruderman (10:39):
How do you think that social media has changed journalism? Do journalists have to be very active in social media in order to raise their profile in order to move ahead in the industry?
Zuri Hall (10:52):
That is a question I ask myself sometimes, it’s almost like we have to live these double lives at this point. I think we all do this transcends by the way, entertainment industry or hard news journalists, or even TV personalities. It’s like we have our day to day on the ground life. And then we have this digital paper trail that we have to curate because if it’s not on the internet, it didn’t happen. And I do sense a shift. I hesitate to say it because I wish it didn’t have to be true, but I do sense a shift towards personal branding online being really essential to showing people who you are because I’m noticing people really want to get behind people, places and things that they can believe in. If I’m going to support your business at this point, I need to know what your business stands for.
Zuri Hall (11:48):
Who are the people in positions of power at your business? What causes, nonprofits or foundations are you supporting or working with? What value system does that corporation operate with? And so we feel the same about our public figures now. There was a time when musicians and actors and actresses, it was like, entertain us, give us the show, give us the song and that’s all we want from you. We don’t want you to get political, but in the last five years, what’s been really interesting about my work in entertainment news journalism is I was starting to cover actors, actresses, singers, who were either speaking up because they just couldn’t stay silent anymore.
Zuri Hall (12:27):
That’s just how big this bubble of tension and political tension, social justice, etc, was becoming, or they were being pressured by their fans to be held accountable in a way that they never had before. When you are a journalist, it’s difficult because especially in hard news, your job is to report it unbiased and just give the information as it is. But we’re in such a polarizing world even with our journalists, you start to get more commentary, which I think people appreciate.
Speaker 2 (13:03):
You’re listening to All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman. You can learn more, view the show notes and transcripts at rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive.
Jay Ruderman (13:14):
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Jay Ruderman (13:20):
I mean, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but have there been any interviews that you’ve had that were particularly interesting or your favorite people that you’ve interviewed in the past? Because you’ve interviewed so many people.
Zuri Hall (13:32):
Oh my gosh. Oh gosh, there are a ton. I mean, Oprah, just Oprah, Oprah, Oprah. I love that woman I’ve loved her before I met her. I have had the pleasure and the honor of interviewing her three times now. And what I love most about her is they sometimes say, “Don’t meet your idols.” But she just lives up to everything you might expect. She has such a gift for making people feel seen. And upon meeting her, you immediately realize how she became Oprah. She’s giving you all of her Oprah energy and it’s like, you two are the only ones in the room. I’ll always appreciate any time I get to talk to her.
Jay Ruderman (14:11):
Well, she’s certainly one of the most respected people in America and probably around the world. Where do you think journalism is going in the future? How do you think it’s going to change?
Zuri Hall (14:22):
What I actually think when it comes to changes and journalism is I think the change will come from the consumer and the viewer. I think to my earlier point, we are getting to a point where we are appreciating true journalism and real news because we have had a lot of time where we don’t know what the truth is and because of the way social media is going, because of the way our platforms have just become algorithm fuels, echo chambers of whatever we consume, whatever we want to hear, there is even more need for personalities, anchors, reporters operating with journalistic integrity. When things get real, we’re coming out of a global pandemic, there were so many facts intertwined with myth. And we went to the people who we could trust to disseminate fact from fiction. And so the change that I see and I’m encouraged by is the fact that those people who deserve that acknowledgement and that respect are starting to get it again.
Jay Ruderman (15:33):
Right. That’s so true. You hosted a show that was called, What’s Good with Zuri Hall, which was an E! News original series that takes bite-size deep dive look into pop culture topics that celebrities explore diversity in Hollywood, speaking of diversity and inclusion, what can the entertainment industry do to be more inclusive and more diverse?
Zuri Hall (15:56):
A lot of times I think people see us, the talking heads if you will, or that the faces, that the hosts, the actors, the actresses, and let that be the only reflection they need to see, to decide if a company or a production or a studio is diverse or inclusive. But I think we need to do it from the top down. We need executives. We need people in positions of power. We need producers and writers who also reflect the talent who were advocating for, or talking about diversity and inclusion. If we can make that top down shift happen, that’ll be the biggest way to do it honestly. The power is behind the scenes. We need to make sure diversity and inclusion is reflected there too.
Jay Ruderman (16:37):
You emceed a program for our foundation many months ago before COVID where we honored the Farrelly brothers for including people with disabilities in their films and really taking a leadership role. Do you see a point where our society is moving in the direction of becoming more inclusive for all different types of people in our society?
Zuri Hall (16:58):
Whether it is people living with disabilities, whether it is indigenous populations, whether it is the LGBTQ community, we all need to be each other’s allies. There is not one cause, and then we’re done. And what’s exciting about this time is I think people are really opening themselves up to humbling themselves and learning that they have so much more to learn, myself included. That is so important for me to say, I can’t overstate it enough. The one thing I know is that I do not know much. And the blessing is we are all starting to have these conversations together and creating safe spaces to learn. So I know I’m committed to being a better ally to learning how I can advocate more for marginalized communities, whether it affects me or not, because I hope that people are doing the same for me. So yeah, I’m very hopeful.
Jay Ruderman (17:44):
In April, you hosted the AlphaBabe Power Panel, where you had some of the leaders in the entertainment industry join you to talk about their advice and stories in the industry, and it raised thousands of dollars for COVID-19 relief. Can you talk a little bit about that and what gave you the idea to do it? And do you think you’ll do it in the future?
Zuri Hall (18:08):
AlphaBabe was a concept that came to me many years ago, probably six or seven years ago. And it was just at the time of social media platform to empower young women especially to one, embrace their ambition, not shy away from it to embrace the quote unquote alpha in them I think traditionally women who are labeled alpha, it’s a bad thing. They try to imply, “Oh, we’ll never get a man.” As if we need one to go through life happily. If we want one that is also awesome, but there was just such a negative connotation to that world. And it was before the shift that I’ve seen in the last six or seven years. So even though we still need it I’m happy to say that in the six or seven years, since I came up with the concept, we’re seeing way more of this energy and this narrative being pushed to the forefront, but it was just a way for us to celebrate our duality.
Zuri Hall (19:01):
You can be strong, you can be alpha and still embrace your femininity and the things that make you soft and sometimes vulnerable. And I really wanted to use the platform to cater to career eccentric women and help equip them with tools and resources, to kind of boss up to their best life and go after whatever their goals are with full speed. And when the pandemic hit, it was this bittersweet realization I think for a lot of us that, hey, we don’t have to necessarily be in person to affect change, to move the needle in the way that we’d hoped. I’d been putting off hosting an AlphaBabe event for so long to raise money for various initiatives that I was passionate about because I think, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to take so much money.” Or, “I need to get sponsors.”
Zuri Hall (19:50):
Or, “What about a venue?” I’m working full time, two jobs sometimes, just how? How? How? And quarantine forced us all to slow down and sit down and we all wanted to help, however we could, and being in Hollywood, I have amazing relationships that I’m so grateful for. And I have young women and men who ask me all the time for career advice and I help one-on-one whenever I can, but I just thought this is a really great opportunity to reach a bunch of people because everyone’s sitting at home, if they’re lucky enough to be able to quarantine at home and we can raise money for an important cause, which is relief efforts for COVID-19. So I got together some of my industry friends, recognized media personalities, hard news journalists, etc. And we hosted a virtual event and sold tickets.
Zuri Hall (20:45):
And we had hundreds of men and women on there soaking up our knowledge and our wisdom from decades combined in the entertainment industry. And then we donated 100% of those net proceeds to COVID-19 relief efforts across the country. So that was really encouraging for me because it made me realize doing good and helping doesn’t have to be so hard. Like with a little bit of creativity and effort, it can be easier to do the work then maybe we sometimes realize, and that was encouraging. So I’m looking forward to doing more events like that.
Jay Ruderman (21:25):
Right. Well, congratulations on that.
Zuri Hall (21:27):
Jay Ruderman (21:27):
So many people know you from Access Hollywood covering red carpets from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and many other shows and events, and you were also on American Ninja warrior. Have you ever tried the course?
Zuri Hall (21:42):
Oh my gosh. I am smart enough to not try that course. Jay, if you ever want to try the course, you let me know. When we get you up there you can let me know how it is.
Jay Ruderman (21:51):
It looks pretty difficult.
Zuri Hall (21:53):
Yeah, it’s massive. It’s an entirely different beast and it’s one thing on TV, but I’ll never forget the first time I walked up to it. Because I thought I might try it honestly. But the first night I walked up to the course and saw it in person. I was like, absolutely not. I value my limbs. I value my motor functions. I value the fact that right now everything is intact and with me and how clumsy I am and not athletically gifted is just probably a recipe for disaster. So I’ll stick to the sideline reporting.
Jay Ruderman (22:24):
I think the men and women who go through that course are exceptional athletes.
Zuri Hall (22:29):
They really are.
Jay Ruderman (22:29):
And that’s something that most of us don’t-
Zuri Hall (22:32):
A hundred percent agree.
Jay Ruderman (22:34):
You have been a guest star on several shows and you also studied improv in New York City. Do you like improv and do you think it made you a better reporter? And do you think that you would ever consider going into acting?
Zuri Hall (22:50):
I do like improv in the way that you like anything that’s extremely uncomfortable in the moment, but you feel good for having done it on the other side, it’s like working out for me because I hate working out every session is torture, but after I’m like I should do more of that, improv is the same thing and I would love to do more of it. I think it helps me in hosting and the conversations that I have that I moderate, whether on camera or on stage to just kind of be able to go off the cuff and feed off of the person, acting yes, I would like to actually, it was my first love. I minored in theater when I was at university, I’ve done a lot of stage work and a couple of guest appearances. I did an appearance on The Morning Show, Jenny Aniston’s project with Reese Witherspoon over Apple TV. And that just kind of reignited my acting bug. So maybe we’ll see some more in the future. Never say never.
Jay Ruderman (23:42):
How long did it take you to get comfortable in front of the camera?
Zuri Hall (23:47):
I think I was always a bit of a ham when the camera came on, even when I was really young and I think it was because I was so shy, I was painfully shy, super reserved through high school, pushing into college to the point I sometimes I would feel uncomfortable looking people in the eyes. I remember my granny always kind of gently scolding me and saying, “When you speak to someone, you look them in the eyes, it’s a sign of respect for them. It’s a sign of respect for yourself.” And that was just so hard for me to do, so the camera was always my permission to be a thing that I didn’t feel I was naturally in everyday life. So if I was on a stage acting or talking into a camera, it was like this automatic permission to just be who I knew I could be.
Jay Ruderman (24:32):
You have been very involved and very social conscious in volunteering. What are some of the causes and organizations that are important to you?
Zuri Hall (24:41):
I’m really passionate about inner city youth and single mothers, especially those raising underprivileged youth. I’ve done a lot of work with the Alexandria House here in Los Angeles, which is a transitional home for single mothers and their children. And what I really love about that home specifically is they let children come who are young girls and boys up to the age or through, I think about 17 years old. And so I volunteered there and help when I can. I’ve been an advocate and a part of the Know Your Girls campaign in association with the ad council, which has helped raise awareness for black women and breast cancer, which is a disease that statistically affects us at an alarmingly higher rate than it does our white female counterparts.
Zuri Hall (25:33):
And now I’m looking for more ways, like I’m starting the work, being able to share space with everyone at your event for inclusion with the Ruderman Family Foundation was really special for me and really eye opening for me and really kind of lit a fire in me to do more work in that space also, and learn how to become a better ally in that space. So I use my platform in the ways that I can, I’m really open to people, reaching out to me and sort of presenting ideas about how I can use my platform better, because like I said, I’m still learning and there’s still so much to be open to. So that’s been a really exciting thing to commit to, especially in the last two to three years, but continuing to do that work is something that I’m really committed to.
Jay Ruderman (26:20):
Yeah. Well, I want to thank you because at our event, we highlighted the dearth of people with disabilities in front of the camera and there are plenty of people with disabilities who are talented. And I think that people like yourself and the Farrelly brothers and other people in the audience like Larry David have the power to really raise this issue. And I think we will get to the point where it’s going to seem unnatural to have disability played by someone who does not have that disability. So I want to thank you for being interested in that. Finally, I just want to ask you- your partner, Sean Culkin, who plays for the Los Angeles Chargers and he played during college at the University of Missouri and you are a graduate of Ohio state. If the two schools were playing in a national championship game, who would you-
Zuri Hall (27:13):
Oh way to raise the stakes Jay, I did not expect national championship title on the line here. Oh man, that’s a house divided. I know that for sure. I’m a Buckeye through and through. I got to be honest. The question would be if in some impossible world, Sean, were still playing for Missouri, who would I be cheering for? And then I might have to sleep on it. I’d have to meditate. I’d have to figure out where my loyalty lies. Oh goodness, can I plead the fifth on this one? Can I exercise my right?
Jay Ruderman (27:52):
Sure. Yeah, I don’t want it to get you in any trouble. And he’s a wonderful guy and you’re really lucky. He’s lucky. So it was just a hypothetical I didn’t want to put you on the spot. But anyway, Zuri it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
Zuri Hall (28:10):
Jay Ruderman (28:10):
You recently had a birthday and I want to wish you a happy belated birthday. I’m sure it wasn’t easy celebrating a birthday during COVID-19. It’s not like every year, but you’re doing fantastic work in the entertainment industry. And I think you have an amazing future. And on top of that, you have a conscious, you care about your community, which not everyone in the industry does. So it’s been a pleasure getting to know you, and I really appreciate you appearing on our show today.
Zuri Hall (28:42):
Jay, thank you so much for taking the time. The honor was all mine and this is great. So awesome to talk with you a little bit more.
Jay Ruderman (28:49):
Thank you. Take care and be safe and be healthy.
Zuri Hall (28:52):
Speaker 2 (28:58):
All Inclusive is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Our key mission is the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can find All Inclusive on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. To view the show notes, transcripts, or to learn more, go to rudermanfoundation.org/allinclusive. Have an idea for a podcast? Be sure to tweet at Jay Ruderman.