Hollywood remains a cut above when it comes to industries actively trying to correct their diversity issues. You know, as opposed to some lukewarm acknowledgement of a problem and vague, ephemeral plans to work on a solution.
This week FX CEO John Landgraf went on record saying that he’s made significant changes to ensure the company’s director roster is more diverse. The numbers look good. According to Variety:
“On their 17 series — from “The Americans” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson” to the upcoming “Legion,” “Atlanta” and “Better Things” — there are a total of 170 director slots. Twenty-one of those slots are as yet unfilled. Of the 149 directing jobs that have been booked, 76 — more than half — have gone to men and women of color and white women. The breakdown is as follows: 73 slots went to white men (49%); 32 directing gigs went to men of color (21%); 11 jobs went to women of color (7%); and 33 helming jobs went to white women (22%).”
It’s bad news for white men who liked the old way where there was less competition, but it’s fabulous news for the channel, for viewers and for talented minority directors who weren’t getting any play before.
“I wish I had done it years ago,” Landgraf told Variety. “The thing that’s most exciting to me about this is that this group of people has proven that it’s just a matter of priorities. It’s just a matter of will, and it can be done. Nobody really can say, ‘It can’t be done,’ or ‘It’ll take 10 years to do it.’ It can be done now.”
Preach, sir. His comment suggests that continuous dialogue, and multiple stakeholders pointing out what’s wrong with the established system, works – if leaders are receptive. We just have to keep talking and keep the pressure on until the higher ups make the changes we demand.
The problem is, people can have unrealistic expectations. Change won’t happen immediately just because there’s an identified problem. It’s that whole Rome wasn’t built in a day thing. Yes, change has taken way too long, and much of the change we can attribute to diversity has not been sustainable or lasting. I once heard someone refer to diversity as a cha cha, one step forward, two back, which is the perfect analogy.
But as Landgraf said, it doesn’t have to take as long as some would have you believe. All you need is a savvy leader who believes the requested change has value, and the will and the means to get things done. That’s why changes of this kind – of all kinds, really – need to come from the top.
CBS Boss Glenn Geller also threw out some improved diversity stats this week in response to the heat when folks pointed out the channel’s new fall premieres all have white male leads. Diversity in supporting roles and directors, on the other hand, is improving. I like that when he was asked why the top spots are filled with white men he didn’t front. He simply said, “Sometimes our showrunners are diverse, sometimes they’re not diverse. We picked up the best shows from the pilots we made.”
That’s good to hear. No one wants diversity for the sake of. We want diversity because it’s reality, and we should see that reality on and off the screen. To add color just because the public is pointing a crooked and judgmental finger will ultimately prove the naysayers right: that minorities aren’t ready to step into the leadership slots we demand access to, and that the status quo is perfectly acceptable.
This is about opening the door for talent that already exists but until now was shut out. Whether the workplace is a Hollywood sound stage or an office cubicle, diversity should not be a sop or an add on. It’s not a Bandaid to cover a fresh wound. I mean, let’s face it, the wound that is diversity in this country would more aptly be described as stinking, infected and oozing puss. But changes like the ones FX and CBS have made and are planning to make are the cure. These changes position diversity is a viable, strategic business imperative that yields hard and soft dividends – if planned and executed thoughtfully and with an eye toward sustainability.
I’ve got fingers and toes crossed that the flood of diverse shows and talent we’re seeing come out of Hollywood isn’t just a response to #OscarsSoWhite. But I don’t think it is. There are too many classic reboots in the works featuring all female casts – I can’t wait for that new Oceans 11 – for this to be a temporary fix.
I think what’s happening now indicates the industry is responsive to its audience and savvy enough to know that worthwhile changes to its infrastructure will produce the dollars it requires. That money/audience response will ensure these changes become the norm.
I just hope other less creative industries will take a page from the Hollywood primer on diversity, shake up their infrastructures and reap the associated benefits.
Photo caption: Donald Glover is creating a show for FX called “Atlanta,” which premieres in September.