Diversity: Building Inclusion Into the Media Production Pipeline (link opens emaze presentation)
Text read aloud during presentation:
My work background is diverse and varied. I’ve trained horses, made movies, crawled through the mud with a rifle, among other things. I’m circling back around to film and media production right now – and I want to change the process for the better. I want to build inclusion and diversity into the plan from the start.
Examples of Media Types
There is often a lot of media crossover in planning large campaigns. Movies have games, video games have books, books have apps, and most have print advertising to go with them.
Film Production Process
Where, then, is the best place to instigate a paradigm shift? I did a search for graphics depicting the film production process. As you can see, there are a myriad of ways that people envision this happening. Still, with hundreds of thousands, often millions of euro at stake, there IS a plan.
The assumed default perspective from which many stories are told, and by which success is measured, is that of a cisgender, white, heterosexual, male. All other experiences are considered niche or alternative.
There are many types of privilege. One is commonly referred to as “white privilege, which Wikipedia defines as “…societal privileges that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. These privileges are unearned…”
One of the most destructive things about any sort of privilege is that it often exists as a blind spot in our psyche. We may not view ourselves as racist, but for a white person in America, the deck is stacked in their favour.
Federal Glass Ceiling Commission
Why should you care about privilege and the status quo? After all, if you’re here in this class, you’ve already got the privilege of living in an EU country and availing of a university level education. Among the may reasons to make equality and diversity a priority – such as compassion, justice, possible religious values – are the financial benefits. Do a quick search for “benefits of diversity” some time. You’ll find plenty.
Dimensions of inclusion
There are endless variations to the human experience; therefore, there are endless variations to the dimensions of inclusion. They are all based in differences, in what makes us unique. Some of the most commonly acknowledged differences are ethnicity, gender (including identity and orientation), (dis)ability, language, culture, and accuracy of depiction.
Women: behind the camera
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has commissioned several studies about the portrayal of women and girls in media and entertainment. What they’ve found is that women are even less represented behind the camera than they’d thought. Women make up only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers.
The onscreen result
Onscreen it’s even worse. Not only is the ratio of roles for women one third of what it is for men, but the types of roles are extremely limited and often demeaning. Women are far more likely than men to be depicted in attire designed to display them as sexual objects and to be selected for a role based on mainstream definitions of physical beauty.
The Bechdel Test
A measurement by which a shocking number of films fail is the Bechdel Test. The questions are simple: does the movie have at least two women in – it who talk to each other – about something other than a man. Unsurprisingly, at least to me, is that films which do pass the test make more money.
My Personal “Gamergate”
The gender imbalance found in Hollywood is also found the video gaming community, despite the fact that studies have shown women make up 48% of the gaming population. The male-centric view extends into the behaviour of many gaming communities, with loud and often preposterous levels of misogyny being part and parcel of the experience.
Recently I left a comment on a YouTube video promoting EveOnline, a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game set in space. I played Eve several years ago, but quit due primarily to some game design mechanics I found unsatisfying. What struck me when watching the video, however, was the almost complete lack of representation of the female gamer community. I addressed both points in my comment.
“Distinct lack of female gamer representation is disheartening. Have you forgotten that we make up half the population, CCP?
I played Eve and I loved the space travel, but there was even less character interaction than in WoW…”
However, since I led with with the comment about gender balance, everything after that was dismissed and I was immediately attacked.
These are the first six responses to my comments. As you see, only one of them addresses the game play issues I’d brought up. As of this writing, there are ___ (139) replies, most of which consist of name calling, insults to my intelligence, and repeated calls for me to go back in the kitchen.
I wrote a blog post about the experience and have received comments from 3 people, all of which are in line with the YouTube responses. One attempted to give me advice about how not to seem so “bitchy”. One rambled on so long that I skipped to the end where the writer dared me to publish it (I declined). One simply consisted of “you make me sick”.
To be fair, this may be more representative of people who like to troll on YouTube rather than the gaming community as a whole. However, the intensity of the vitriol and the willingness of so many to jump on the bandwagon speaks volumes about how safe they feel in their bigotry.
As mentioned before, gender bias is just one aspect of the lack of diversity. Also missing across all spectra are frequent (as in, accurate) and positive depictions of people of colour. Dorian is a character from the Dragon Age franchise. This graphic was taken from a Tumblr blog called “Dragon Age Confessions”, where people write a short paragraph to the blog owner who superimposes the text over a relevant piece of art from the game. I find it heartbreaking to realize how few characters represent people of colour.
And why is this even news to me? Because of my blindspot, my privilege as a perceived white person.
David Gaider is the head writer of Dragon Age at Bioware. When a self-defined “straight, male gamer” objected to the diversity of romantic relationships depicted in the game he shared some choice words with the public about it.
“The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention.”
It turns out that Mr. Gaider identifies as gay. I don’t believe this translates to having an agenda, but it does illustrate how having an alternative perspective in the creative process helps ensure that your end product breaks the default mould. Mr. Gaider is Caucasian, however, which may explain why the appearance of the Dorian character is such a rarity.
What will it take?
The rising consciousness about equality issues in terms of gender and race will probably make those some of the softest targets. Addressing other issues, like language, physical and mental abilities, and religious diversity could take longer. Getting a blueprint built into the process now will make it easier to add components for consideration later, much like browser addons.
I plan to start with extracting data from existing studies, explaining the benefits of diversity, continuing outreach to and receiving feedback from studios, artists, and other production staff, creating a base blueprint, and finally convincing those contacts I’ve made along the way to implement it.
There will, of course, be more feedback and revisions after that. There is also the possibility of creating a grading and award system that allows creators to promote their product on the basis of fulfilling a percentage of diversity requirements.
This is something I’m starting as part of an MA but plan to continue into a PhD.
And finally, because I dream of being a TED speaker one day, I think think THIS is an idea worth spreading.
This Comic Perfectly Explains What White Privilege Is (“This Comic Perfectly Explains What White Privilege Is,” 2014)
Good For Business: Making Full Use of the Nation’s Human Capital (Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995)
Research Informs & Empowers (“Research Informs & Empowers – See Jane,” n.d.)
Gender Disparity On Screen and Behind the Camera in Family Films; The Executive Report (Smith & Choueiti, 2011)
The Rule (“DTWOF: The Blog : The Rule,” 2005)
“This is EVE” – Uncensored (2014) (“‘This is EVE’ – Uncensored (2014) – YouTube,” 2014)
Dragon Age Confessions (“Dragon Age Confessions – CONFESSION: When I first saw Dorian, I held my…,” n.d.)
“Straight Male Gamer” Told To ‘Get Over It’ By BioWare (“‘Straight Male Gamer’ told to ‘get over it’ by BioWare | No More Lost,” 2011)