Hulu’s New VP of Animation on Diversity & Streaming

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While CGMagazine was visiting SCADFilm’s AnimationFest, we had the pleasure to witness the 2022 Award of Excellence presentation to Hulu’s new vice-president of animation at Hulu, Kelci Parker. Parker was previously the Vice President of Comedy—working on popular series such as Only Murders in the BuildingHow I Met Your Father, Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., and Marvel’s Hit-Monkey.

The presentation was led by SCAD associate chair of film and television, Quinn Orear, where Parker offered an inspiring speech on her career leading up to her current position. Then, the students were able to ask many buzzing questions about how to succeed as Parker went from the small town of Albion, Michigan, to Hollywood. “Your most valuable currency in Hollywood is your opinion,” were the words passed on to Parker from the President of Comedy Central, Kent Alterman, to the SCAD students.

Parker served as an assistant, then led the charge of content management on Adult Swim before joining Hulu as the lead development/current programming executive on Hulu comedy originals. Then, in June 2022, she was promoted to her current title. Essence Magazine has named her one of the top 150 “Black Women in Hollywood to Know”, in one of their latest issues. CGMagazine wanted to know more about Parker’s moving origin story and what drove her into her current position at Hulu.

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CGMagazine: I know you mentioned that you’d loved Avatar: The Last Airbender yesterday, and that was a show that always brought all my cousins together. So, I have to ask, if you had to choose your bending element, what would it be?

Kelci Parker: Water for sure. I’m such a water baby. I’m a Pisces. I have a mermaid tattoo, and I swam growing up. I just love the water. And I know I can control things in cool ways. And I’m like, okay, we got some water to turn into ice; I could turn it into snow; and I could turn it into a gas. I think it would definitely be water.

CGMagazine: You wouldn’t want to do blood bending though, right?

Kelci Parker: Oh, no. That’s just like all liquids.

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CGMagazine: Alright, time for the nitty-gritty questions. So, you talked a lot about your transition from being an assistant into a more development executive. I was curious what makes a great development executive in your opinion?

Kelci Parker: I think kind of speaking to what I said yesterday, is making sure you understand the common goal of making the best content and knowing that it’s a team effort. And it’s not just you’re putting your stamp on it as your show. There are so many people involved, and it really is a collaborative team effort. So being willing to be a part of that team and help guide and keep the train on the tracks.

You know, kind of dropping ego and having that impact of what your day-to-day is, knowing that you’re just trying to help someone hone their voice and tell the best story. I believe that is what makes a good exec. That’s kind of the ethos I stick to, to try to make good shows have good relationships with the creators and the talent in the show.

CGMagazine: And of course, everyone has their off days at the office. So, we were wondering, is it possible to describe, on a more positive note, a less great day at the office? What does that look like, and what are some strategies you use to rebalance yourself?

Kelci Parker: Right now, it’s nice because we’re remote. So, I don’t go into the office. If I have a stressful moment, I can take a beat, take a walk around the block and do some breathing exercises. I really like to meditate; I have the app, Calm. And they have quick five-minute meditations. And ones that are specific to work to get you amped up for a meeting, and to help you with whatever you need to do to get ready.

So, I usually try to take a beat to do that. And I grew up playing sports, and I love sports. I try to work out just to keep those endorphins and my positive mentality going and I have a therapist. So, if I have a bad day, whenever I have my every other week on Monday meetings, it seems really helpful. She knows everything. She’s great. I’m really close to my friends, my family and my brother works in the industry. So, I’ve been to him and he kind of gets it, so that’s nice.

My roommates, one works in the industry and the other doesn’t, but she’s lived with me for so long. She also kind of knows everything. I think surrounding yourself with people who you trust. So even if you have a bad day, you have someone to come pick you up and take care of your mental health is kind of how I get through those rough days.

CGMagazine: I like that, the emotional support group.

Kelci Parker: It’s not always rainbows and butterflies and great. And when it is rough, it’s usually just problem-solving. The biggest thing is putting out fires. Once you problem-solve, and try not to take everything personally, and kind of let that go and say—my brother always says ‘control the controllables’. And as I lean into that, that really helps me to kind of prioritize and evaluate what is most important. And if I’m putting emotional weight into it, how can I navigate that in a way that’s healthy for me?

CGMagazine: I remember yesterday, you referred to the importance of pivoting, knowing how to pivot. So, I was wondering that even though you moved away from writing, are you still writing whether it’s a passion project or a personal project?

Kelci Parker: Now I journal, going back to therapy. For my mental health, I journal. Maybe one day I’ll go back to writing, but I’m really enjoying development because I’m still creatively involved. But there’s always that, yes, and the process of development that I really like. I’m getting my creative fix still by giving feedback on things because I think that’s the biggest part is that I can scratch that creative itch, but still be able to do my own thing.

Maybe one day I’ll write again, but it’s hard. It’s a very hard field to be in. I was writing, I love writing comedies. I think my strength is writing dramedies. It’s too much for me, the emotional attachment to those characters and trying to break through their arcs and dynamics was just, it was too much. So maybe, but I really like what I do now.

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CGMagazine: That makes a lot of sense. And then you mentioned the important concept of dropping ego, and shooting for the stars. Was that always the mentality going into the industry?

Kelci Parker: Oh no. That was a hard learned lesson. It’s definitely a lesson learned. But I think as you spend more time in it, again, you look back at the emotional attachment. We’re spending so much time at work. And I think especially the pandemic has helped a lot of people to reevaluate this. But knowing if there is such a thing as a work-life balance, knowing what that looks like for yourself, and what that means to you.

So, finding the time to separate your ego away from those things, I think, goes a long way. Having even a small outlet that’s what you’re doing in your day to day, professional life. For me that’s working out or I love going to concerts, so I’m not constantly bogged down by this latest script that comes in or what did this person say in the trades, or whatever, it’s fine.

CGMagazine: You discussed being able to advocate for yourself, that was a very important topic. Could share any specific examples where you were working either as an assistant or at an entry-level position, and you had to advocate for yourself through a project?

Kelci Parker: There have been times, especially when I was a coordinator—where I’d be servicing as the junior executive on a project. Sometimes juniors wouldn’t get on-screen credit, and senior level executives would.

There’s a project that’s really personal to me and close to my heart. I worked really hard on it and put a lot of effort into it. It was specifically about the intersectionality of blackness, and I was one of the very few black executives at the company. I asked my boss during the press release, ‘Can my name get mentioned as an executive on the show, and here are all the things I’ve done that I think have warranted this’, without being cocky, and having a massive ego about it.

But to show it, I think it’s beneficial to the company, to also know that there are executives from underrepresented communities working on these things, so that when talent are bringing projects in, they know, there’s someone who understands them on the other side of the table as well. It’s getting better, but you don’t necessarily see that all the time.

So how do you get these great voices for underrepresented places to feel comfortable enough to tell their stories in the way they want to tell? So they don’t feel like they have no one on their side of the table? I think, that probably stands out to me as a moment of advocacy. That worked in my favour.

CGMagazine: That’s great to hear. Being part of the BIPOC, we all have something important to say. And we do need more platforms to say it.

Kelci Parker: Absolutely. That’s why I credit Kent [Alterman] a lot when he said, “Your most valuable currency in Hollywood is your opinion.” Again, it’s subjective, and comedy especially is subjective, but you have to have a point of view on it. I think that’s what’s most important.

CGMagazine: Switching gears a little bit. One tweet that caught my eye—

Kelci Parker: From me?

CGMagazine: Yes.

Kelci Parker: Oh, no.

CGMagazine: It was the one where Lewis Hamilton was getting into his car. Are you into Formula 1?

Kelci Parker: Oh yeah! Miami Grand Prix? Oh, man. He has the Vegas one. We’re like, ‘should we book our hotel’? Like even Daniel Ricciardo—I have a group text called Vroom Vroom. And we’re like, “oh, is Daniel Ricciardo going to sign with Williams?” It’s bad. It’s very bad.

CGMagazine: How did you love last year’s final Grand Prix?

Kelci Parker: I did not love last year. I don’t like Red Bull. I don’t like Verstappen. Verstappen drives me crazy. I’m, as you can tell, a very passionate sports fan. I got into F1 during the pandemic, I watched Drive to Survive. So, Netflix got me really good. I was like, “wow, I’m really into this.” And it’s another thing my brother’s super into, so it’s something we do together. We have a great group of friends that love it. And, well, I’ll travel for sports. I will always travel for sports. For soccer and F1, I will go anywhere in the world.

CGMagazine: That fascination with sports, is that something you also bring into your own role whenever you’re hearing pitches?

Kelci Parker: Oh, yeah. Also, I think it’s my screenwriting professor at Michigan, Jim Bernstein, he was a big sports fan. And he always told us that sports games are the best story because the stakes are so high. Anyone can be the protagonist, and anyone can be the antagonist. So, depending on what team you’re on, you never know the outcome. You have no idea. You can guess and say ‘Oh, this team should win because of that, the skill set or whatever”, but you never know. And the stakes if the winner loses seem so high, just—I’m a big football fan.

I went to Michigan, so within three hours of that game, the stakes are so high. I love it. I think it’s truly some of the best storytelling. It’s super dramatic, and the arcs are amazing. And so thinking about the way stories are told through games, and applying that just to general storytelling, I think, has been really fun for me. That’s been the joy of having a dad who’s a college football coach and playing sports growing up. I swam; I played soccer; and I played rugby.

In college, my brother wrestled and my sister’s family played soccer. We were very competitive. But then we were also like fine arts nerds on the side. So, we kind of got the best of both worlds, and I think having that sort of mentality within the sports world and having leadership roles, being a captain of the team, being a drum major, and being in these leadership roles has also given me a lot of value and taught me a lot that I bring in still to my day-to-day job.

CGMagazine: We’ve talked about the importance of diversity and inclusion in media. Are there any future initiatives to push that forward since you were signed on to Hulu?

Kelci Parker: No specific initiatives, I think it’s just getting more people from underrepresented groups into positions of power. I think all companies across Hollywood are trying to do more of that and be better about it, I think there’s still a lot of work to be done. So much work to be done. I do a lot just to speak up in general. If something’s going on, and I feel like needs to be flagged, I’m going to flag it and try to maintain the confidence of doing that and approaching it in the right way. With that, again, everyone’s human, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re flawed.

I’m hoping that the approach is people are coming from a place of empathy, and they’re going to talk about these things to understand and continue to advocate, and know if a story is good, it’s good. It shouldn’t matter what you look like where you come from. It should not be filtered through this lens of trauma and under-representation. It should be told as a good story, because it’s good. And that’s really important to me. So, I think, no matter what your background is, if you’re working in development, that should hopefully be the perspective you’re approaching this stuff.

CGMagazine: Nice, I love that. Delving into one of my favourite shows, Only Murders In The Building, the number one character that stood up from season one was James Caverley’s depiction of Theo [Dimas] because it was just the way his character was carefully handled. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a depiction like that before, seeing someone on-screen who was deaf or auditory impaired. So, was this character entirely made before casting James? And then, did he tweak it even more than they had planned?

Kelci Parker: Yeah, they had an ASL coach on set that worked with Nathan and the woman [Olivia Reis] who played Zoe [Cassidy]. They were on set learning about it and in real time, working with James and talking to James, and he had a great interpreter on set as well. I also think advocacy on the set to make sure people who have any sort of disabilities are able to still bring their best selves to work, and make sure they can do their work in the way they want to show up the same way that anyone else does is really important.

I just really love that story. The silent episode [The Boy From 6B], Cherien Dabis directed it, Emmy nominated, so good. Everyone’s so talented on that show. I think it’s a good job of representing the perspective of someone who was auditory impaired. I’m sure there’s more we can be doing; it will always be doing better. But it was really cool to have that sort of opportunity to see that happen. A lot of credit goes to John Hoffman, our showrunner, who was just a rock star doing great things and has really done a good job of bringing that show together in an interesting way.

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CGMagazine: And were you able to check out the new LED XR volume?

Kelci Parker: Yeah, it wasn’t on, but we walked through yesterday. It was cool. I was like ‘this is impressive.’ Because at Disney, we have our stage that has all the different backgrounds you can pull in and everything, so it’s kind of similar to that. I was like these kids are getting this sort of resources in college?!

I’m ready to go back to school. I’m going to apply and go to SCAD because wow—so impressive. All the resources here, and all the things they have, are just amazing. So, it’s been really nice to experience the campus. I haven’t been to the Savannah campus yet. But the Atlanta campus alone has been truly blown away in the past couple of days, what I’ve seen in the resources they have.

CGMagazine: So does that mean there could be more opportunities potentially coming to Atlanta with this opening of the new XR LED volume?

Kelci Parker: I think so. I still say, you can have the fanciest stuff, or you can just have your phone. You can still tell a story and tell it in a really unique way. Obviously, if I can make dragons for Game of Thrones, that’s going to look cool. But that doesn’t diminish the storytelling—something that’s more practical and simplistic.

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CGMagazine: Because you talked a lot about family yesterday and today…maybe almost on the same level as Vin Diesel in the Fast and the Furious movies. I was wondering if you could share some wise words of wisdom from your parents or a family member that you could impart on the students here at SCAD, both in school, and in life?

Kelci Parker: Yeah, I guess my dad—because I have alopecia. And I remember him shaving my head for the last time when I just had like two little puffs of hair. We were kind of upset about it and wearing a wig. I stopped wearing a wig when I was 13. I remember my dad telling me, because I had some bullies, “If someone doesn’t like you because you’re bald, they’ll find another reason not to like you. And they’re just missing out on the person you are.”

I think that I’ve always held that close and how I’m treating others with empathy, and also understanding that everyone’s not going to like you and that’s okay. You still try to be the best version of yourself possible. Yes, I think that’s what I would probably say [to the students]—just be a good person.

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