This is what the second season of GodComplX looks like: A 16-year-old, Aniya Wolfe, directing two episodes; a staff, cast and writers room that is 95 percent women; and a plot that follows a young woman of color establishing herself as a top software developer. The series features characters who historically have been underrepresented in Hollywood — people of color, women, people who identify as LGBTQ and people with disabilities.
This, by most standards, is not your typical Hollywood production.
GodComplX, a Google web series, started with big dreams — specifically, the dreams of Claire Conroy Brown and Daraiha Greene. Brown, executive producer of GodComplX and owner of Conroy Productions, was determined to make a space in Hollywood that had yet to exist: a place for aspiring writers, directors and talent to do what they dreamed of one day doing. But Brown wanted to give them the chance to do it right now, not years from now.
Brown also had a vision for this space to be representative of the real world, both in front of the lens and behind it. “Let’s rid ourselves of unconscious bias by shifting the demographics behind the camera and in front of the camera,” she says.
Meanwhile, Greene, head of Google’s multicultural engagement team, was on a mission to alter implicit biases, specifically those toward demographics associated with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Greene sought to influence mainstream television toward increasing the representation of groups not stereotypically associated with STEM — women, people of color and people with disabilities, to name a few.
She has worked with shows, including Silicon Valley, The Fosters and The Quad, to encourage the creators to develop characters who don’t fit the stereotypical mold of a person working in technology. “Our goal is to break out of that stereotype,” Greene says. “If you have a character who is working in tech and want to make them a white male in a hoodie, that's fine, but have a reason.”
Greene found intermittent success working with existing television shows, but she really had not had the impact that she'd hoped to have. “There were limitations,” she explains. “We would be waiting for the next season, or have just missed that moment in the writers room when we could have the most impact. We were having to wait and be very patient.”
That’s when Greene came up with the idea of original content. “There were all these obstacles and I thought, ‘Why not just create a totally new show?’” She pitched the idea for original content to her Google team and immediately connected with Brown. They started brainstorming ways they could create original content on a digital platform.
The two women blended their overlapping visions for diversity, technology and fostering a space for the up-and-coming generation of Hollywood creators to make GodComplX, which follows a group of software developers who start a tech company, and how things get complicated when the new hire falls in love with the CEO.
Behind the camera, they hired underrepresented people — people who wouldn’t otherwise be given the opportunity — as creators, writers, cinematographers and directors. In front of the camera, they created a story about engineers who were women, minorities, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities. They created content that challenges our subconscious stereotypes of what a person working in tech looks like.
In the process, Greene and Brown have impacted the lives of many, including Aniya Wolfe, the aforementioned teenage director. “We put up a posting on our Facebook page and she was one of the individuals who applied,” Green explains. “Her mom drove her to set. I have never been more impressed with a 16-year-old. Instinctually, something was telling me it was the right thing to do [to bring her on as a director]. She has raw talent and she is rising to the challenge directing two episodes.”
One of Brown's central goals in making GodComplX is to give young artists a chance to do what they really love — something that Hollywood doesn’t really allow for until one reaches a certain level of experience. They now have a staff, both behind and in front of the camera, who come from wide-ranging backgrounds and experiences. “We have a Google software developer who quit her job to be a writer on the show,” Brown says. “Another writer was at a restaurant and overheard us talking about GodComplX. She ended up sending her samples and we hired her.”
Those are just some of the examples of the type of people working on GodComplX, and it is exactly what Brown wanted — to create, as she puts it, “an avenue to say ‘yes’ to young people.”
Brown and Greene’s partnership in original content is growing. They now have six more original series in the pipeline, all of which focus on underrepresented groups working in technology. Brown says that original ideas revolving around technology are abundant and have yet to be fully explored by Hollywood. “This is our future,” she says. “There are people working in STEM that are doing mind-blowing things that none of us know anything about. It is easy to make mind-blowing content because the stories are there and have been there.”
The two women pride themselves on the culture of collaboration on GodComplX, attributing much of that to the extremely diverse demographics of the team. “There is always a different energy on any set. GodComplX is a 95 percent female crew and there is something really special that happens when that many women come together to create,” Brown says. “It is a kind of energy and collaboration that I have never experienced before.”
Greene agrees: “We want as much diversity behind the screens as we do on camera. There are so many beautiful people on set and we have become such a family, learning from one another and understanding each other’s different perspectives. It is all about acceptance and love. It has really been amazing.”
Morenike Joela, a writer, director and showrunner for GodComplX, says she loves that the show is disruptive to the Hollywood status quo on so many levels. “We are proving that there are diverse and talented creatives and crew that are able to be in lead positions in front of and behind the camera.”
For Diana Ly, a Googler turned screenwriter for GodComplX, the career change was a big adjustment. “But I’m enjoying the creative process of tackling issues I care about through stories, especially ones about women, immigrants and fellow nerds,” she says.
A show like GodComplX is timely and necessary in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, says supervising producer Nakisha Celistan. “It was the epitome of women reaching back and pulling other women forward,” she says.
Brown and Greene are undoubtedly doing something completely new and disruptive in the Hollywood television space. As one of their writers, Lauren Hart, puts it, “This project has taken constant, big risks on letting new voices make creative choices, injecting fresh and unique perspectives that wouldn't have been possible without that leap of faith.”
GodComplX has momentum as the team finishes season two — they have bigger names attached, more money and a larger audience. However, Brown and Greene are not straying far from their original mission. They will continue to inspire and create more platforms for the next generation of Hollywood voices — voices far more diverse and wide-ranging than ever before.
“Women working together to produce this story is a dream come true,” says Beth Tashjian, executive producer of GodComplX. “Their dedication and hard work are inspiring to me. I hope this becomes the norm in Hollywood.”