Diversity in Advertising and Production | “What Can I Do?”
By Apollo’s Jody Lauren Miller
As a director, it’s pretty damn cool when someone asks you, “What can I do to help?” I get this question a lot, but not referring to executing great ideas for clients.
I get the “What can I do?” question after discussions & industry events where people (and companies) just straight up “get woke” to the idea that there’s a diversity problem in advertising.
The Media and entertainment industry has been filtered through one singular source, the white male point of view. It’s a never-ending circle of storytelling from the same origin and, literally, through the same lens. That’s mass consumption of one perspective seen over and over and over for decade after decade.
“But Jody, wait. So what? I see all kinds of movies being produced. What about those mushy romantic comedies I love so much. So what if a white guy wrote directed and shot that film?”
Well a white guy probably did, but how are the women portrayed? Is anything in their lives more important than finding a man, getting married, having a child? Were they seen as a person who has worth beyond appearance or function? And how did this movie mold your worldview? How did it affect things you want? The things you expect? The things your family expects of the things you want?
Side note – Here’s a thought that always interests me. Have you ever heard about the women fighter pilots of WW I and WW II? Probably not. I didn’t either, but those real life brave, talented, fearless women flew planes for their countries and their stories are all but “disappeared” from history. So here’s what I wonder. If your grandfather and his mother knew of such amazing ladies (through newspaper accounts, radio shows, television shows, feature films, etc.) how would it have molded their world view, their attitude and understanding of what women are capable of? How would it have changed how they parented their sons and daughters, who in turn, parented you? Storytelling informs culture and when we miss out on 51% of the stories, society suffers.
Ok, so back to you selfless warriors who ask, “What can I do?”
When speaking about changing the face of advertising and trumpeting the change for diversity and equality in our business, the answer is simple: HIRE WOMEN AND PEOPLE OF COLOR EVERY CHANCE YOU GET.
“Ughhh! But Jody, there aren’t any women directors or any Hispanic DPs good enough to do what I need!”
A silent stare and 300 blinks later my polite response is, “Sure there are! Have you heard of FREE THE BID ? The Director List? Cinematographers XXX ? The 3% Movement ? Well, you have now. Simply insist your production companies and/or ad agency find these talented people and throw them in the mix to compete for your business.
“Oh cool thanks. Good to know, but honestly, I have to go to my usual guys, I know they’ll do the job and I don’t have to worry about them. I’m busy ya know. I can’t save the world.”
This is an understandable thought process, but if this is your mindset please don’t ask the question in the first place. If you have 30 pieces of content to shoot this year, hire women directors to execute a percentage of them. Even if it’s just one more woman or POC that you hire, please know you have just made a huge difference in someone’s life and possibly career. They’ll rock the job and you’ll look like a super hero for bringing in such new vibrant talent.
“Woooaaa. But Jody, wait! I have a REAL problem. Her reel just isn’t as developed as his. It doesn’t hold up. I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do in this case.”
This one makes my head explode because, sadly, it may be true. But let me lay this on you. Talent isn’t the reason; simply put he’s had more opportunity to develop as a director than she has.
This disparity is the entire ball game so it’s worthwhile to understand the impact lack of opportunity has on success and with some insight hopefully you’ll go the full nine to help change this imbalance.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “Outliers” (yeh, he’s the guy who said that it takes 10,000 hours of work to become an expert at something) and if you want to understand success and the variables that contribute to it, read this book. It’s thought provoking and sadly so very, very relatable to me. Plus it has cool Canadian hockey player analogies, not female director analogies, but the point holds up to a T.
Gladwell examines success and notes that we tend to believe in “individual merit.” We attribute success to individual qualities such as talent, motivation and intelligence. When in fact, successful people are “the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities.”
Let me repeat the “extraordinary opportunities” part. Thank you.
Gladwell throws a tree analogy at us: “the tallest tree in the forest came from a good seed—this is not in question. But it did not become the tallest tree in the forest simply because it grew from a good seed; it became the tallest tree because it was planted in good soil and because no other trees blocked its sunlight.”
So the idea that the “cream rises to the top” doesn’t hold up. That tree grew to be the biggest and baddest in the forest not just because its seed has some special qualities, but because of a multitude of other external factors. He explains that very successful people, or outliers, start out only a little better than their peers, and then access to opportunity enables them to excel. “We are surprised because we have bought into the misconception that success derives primarily from talent and hard work alone.” He emphatically maintains that we repeatedly overlook the enormous role society plays in “individual” success.
So there ya have it. Gladwell has the answer as to why HER reel is not as strong as HIS.
“Yeh that’s nice Jod, but again not my problem.”
Ok, fair enough, but I can guarantee with 100% confidence and proven statistical facts that this is your wife’s problem, your girlfriend’s problem, your Asian friend’s problem, that Hispanic guys problem, your gay sons problem and if you look at the co-worker sitting across from you right now, it’s her problem too.
So when asking the brave question of “What can I do?” please know you can do a lot. First, have confidence and know that you’re surrounded by talent, it’s everywhere in all shapes, sizes, colors and sexes. Second, be fearless as you’re a big part of changing the world. Sounds a bit dramatic, but coming from someone who fights this battle daily, it’s not hyperbolic at all. Last, know your decision to hire diversely will have positive ripple effects that you will never know about. So, be that person to make a difference, change the world and hire women, or people of color, or better yet women of color this year.
Equality has advantages for everyone. Try to keep in mind that a rising tide lifts all boats. A corny saying that is so apropos to this conversation and so very true.
Jody has been a long time member of the Apollo Films team. She is currently taking her unique perspective and tackling sexism in the biz with her documentary “Just Ad Man”. Please reach out to email@example.com to learn more about that production or take make a tax deductible donation please click here: http://www.nywift.org/article.aspx?ID=5989. To see Jody’s current show reel, please visit www.apollofilms.com.