The film industry’s systemic struggles with hiring non-white actors have been well documented, but director Ava DuVernay knows that what’s in front of the camera is only half the battle. It’s important that attention be paid to diversity efforts on film crews, as well.
Through her nonprofit company Array Alliance, DuVernay has created a diversity database that studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Netflix, and Sony have invested in. The aim is to widen the insular circles that form in the production world and letting more women and people of color onto the playing field.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with DuVernay and Warner Bros. Television Group chairman Peter Roth, who have teamed up to make this diversity database a reality and grow it into a key resource for studios to utilize when making hiring choices before their productions get underway. “The first two weeks, we had 500 people on a spreadsheet,” DuVernay says. “After a while it was 750 and then 1,000 and then people calling and hearing about it, and it became a bit of a thing.”
Now the list has grown to 2,500 people. It’s free for qualifying talent, all of whom have at least one verifiable credit. The L.A. Times describes it as IMDb meets LinkedIn, where hiring managers can sort by crew position, experience, location, and more in the hopes of finding who they need.
This isn’t meant as a list of people to just blindly hire so studios can fill a quota. Instead, it’s being presented as a list of underrepresented people to interview, when a common refrain throughout the industry has been that producers have “looked everywhere” but couldn’t find a diverse choice for a certain position. Here’s a good quote from Roth that sums it up:
“I can’t tell you how many times in my career, whether it was an actor, a director — forget about below-the-line crews — but how many times I’ve heard the words: ‘Well, we looked everywhere. We exhausted all possibilities.’ And this is a living document, an example, of why we didn’t and we haven’t. What Ava has done, and her team has done, is she’s created access for us of information of people that are so worthy and so capable. And we always hid behind: ‘Well, we really tried, we really looked everywhere’ … but we didn’t. That’s why [the database] is so important. It’s one thing to say we really want to change. It’s another thing to have the information, the access, the data to be able to change.”
Roth, who will be stepping down as WB TV Group chairman at the start of next year, used his connections to call every major studio to try to get them on board – and it worked. Several huge companies have invested and gotten on board, and every single studio has access to this database, which is currently in a soft-launch stage and will be expanding from U.S.-only applicants to include the UK and Canada next year. With this first step being done for them, hopefully studios will actually make use of this and begin changing the makeup of the people who work on productions to reflect the world we’re all living in.
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