— -- The path taken by politics and pop culture commentator Mike Muse from his childhood in Lansing, Michigan, to a national platform was not without its detours. A degree in industrial engineering from the University of Michigan brought him academic accolades, but not much else.
“I hadn’t really had the freedom to explore anything else,” Muse told ABC News. “But I knew that I was unhappy.”
That was reason enough for Muse to leave behind a prestigious job offer and secure career path, and head to Florida. A bartending job paid the bills and kept him busy while he rethought his path.
“In that process of finding myself, a buddy of mine called and said, ‘Hey Mike, would you mind being my manager of this music production company?’”
Muse was hesitant but eventually decided to walk that path with his friend. He’s been sprinting down it ever since that day and hasn’t looked back.
Managing the production company led to a new record label, which led to great success and in turn generated partnerships with corporate giants like Starbucks, McDonald’s, and the NFL.
Muse's success earned him university and guest lecture opportunities, and his first job in radio. Eventually, Muse went to New York City, where his path intersected with the candidacy of then-Sen. Barack Obama. Muse joined his tri-state finance committee, diving into fundraising and political waters for the first time in his life, and giving his media and entertainment platform a real mission, he said.
“All the work that I do, it has to have this intersection, and if it doesn’t have the intersection, I won’t do it,” said Muse. “It’s now my passion.”
With Hollywood’s award season in full swing, Muse’s passion has him on the frontlines of discussions about the representation equality, and the future of America’s entertainment world.
Muse said a steady stream of academic reports now back up what industry insiders have long seen as a pervasive and powerful “unconscious bias” limiting minority representation. Those reports include an annual examination of representation across the industry from UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center African American Studies called the “Hollywood Diversity Report;” a nearly decade-long analysis of popular films and the portrayal of gender, race, LGBT and disability from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism; and studies from the Women’s Media Center tracking the number of female Academy Award nominees, among others.
Muse lamented that that data, combined with the public pressure from campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite, has led only to incremental change.
“I think that it’s really reflective of industries and sectors across America,” said Muse. “We’ve always segmented our population … I think that’s what translates into Hollywood.”
A recent report from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film showed that box office blockbusters like “Wonder Woman” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” were the exception, not the rule. The center’s examination of 2017’s 100 top domestic grossing films found that while men accounted for 58 percent of protagonist roles and females accounted only for 24 percent, a decline of 5 percentage points from the previous year (the remaining 18 percent were comprised of ensembles).
“It doesn’t surprise me one bit. If there’s nobody in the room to say, ‘Hey guys,’ and I do mean ‘guys,’ literally, there’s something wrong here,” said Muse. “Because at the end of the day, it takes the executives who are there in order to cast and to hire. And so it’s still a very monolithic demographic, generally -- still white males run the studios.”
Muse said he remains cautiously optimistic that change will come, buoyed by breakthrough Academy Award nominations this year, while conceding, “We have a long way to go.”
“I’m just thinking maybe five years from now, 10 years from now, I think we’re even going to be more diverse than we already are right now. And so it takes the uncomfortable decisions and is also takes the authentic intentionality,” said Muse. “Change happens when you’re uncomfortable.”
Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of "Uncomfortable." Download and subscribe to the "Uncomfortable" podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, and ABC News podcasts.
Muse was interviewed as part of a series called "Uncomfortable," hosted by Amna Nawaz, that offers in-depth honest conversations with influential figures about issues dividing America.