“Diverse enough? Not yet…”
I have plenty to share with our members for our TV/Diversity Issue. And the first place to start is a recent article expounding on one of our industry’s most pressing issues, the lack of ethnic and gender diversity behind the camera. David Cohen’s recent piece, Artisans So White: Minority Workers and the Fight Against Below-the-Line Bias, talked about guild leaders and members who are bringing a hot spotlight to the problem. He noted my career-long efforts to better integrate camera crews with the following passage:
“This has traditionally been a very white, male industry from the very beginning,” Poster says, “and it’s taken a number of years to change that demographic.” Poster maintains that the progress over the years among DPs and camera assistants is obvious. “You just look at crews and you see that there’s more diversity,” he says. “Is it enough? No.”
Are Local 600 crews integrated by race, gender and sexual orientation? Absolutely. Are our brother and sister IATSE crafts in this industry diverse? Absolutely.
Are we all diverse enough? Not even close.
In fact, diversity numbers have been stagnant for so long, that the recent uptick we’re now seeing on sets is merely a drop in the bucket of a well that has been dry for too long. Encouraging signs abound, however. I recently attended the graduation of a friend at L.A. Film School, and the graduating class was easily 90 percent diverse. I’ve seen that in other schools as well, where there are many more women and people of color embracing those first steps toward a career in film and television. Of course education and opportunity are two different things, and it is incumbent on this entire industry to always be striving toward opening doors for this new generation of union crews, particularly at Local 600, the IATSE’s largest production local, where we lead by example.
The even better news is that our industry is so financially healthy that these jobs not only exist to embrace a diverse new generation of workers, but they will continue to boom for the foreseeable future. The mentality to embrace diversity is what needs to be expanded so that the incremental improvements we have seen in the last few years become much more than just incremental – they become a systemic non-issue. I’ve always approached my own crews with that kind of mindset, and I would hope my fellow cinematographers feel the same way.
I think the deeper question here is: Why is diversity so important?
And the answer is: Look at our country.
Look at the demographics of what America is made up of and where entertainment is going. The content Hollywood creates, and the people who create it, must reflect what America looks like today. And we’re seeing that, particularly on television, where black, Latino, female and LGBT characters are integrated within the narrative landscape as real, complex people, not the cartoon stereotypes of years past. Television producers, executives, and other decision-makers are certainly doing their part to make this industry more inclusive, and those of us behind the camera must follow suit.
September is ECA (Emerging Cinematographer Awards) month at Local 600, an event that has progressively grown more diverse each year. I’m happy that the roster of 2016 honorees includes several women, but even more pleased that diversity coursed throughout the 100 different Guild members that solicited entries this year. These applicants are anything but directors of photography, which means the talent pool within our Guild, i.e. the next generation of cinematographers, has grown much more diverse. Needless to say, the films themselves seem to grow more interesting (and yes, more racially diverse, sexually diverse, and gender diverse) with each passing year.
Local 600’s diversity committee, led by L.A.-based ICG Business Representative Xiomara Comrie, has plenty of initiatives in the works. They include outreach to studios and producers to increase access and opportunity, unconscious–bias training for the National Executive Board, expanded and improved data collection to track progress on diversity efforts within the Local, and a planned panel discussion bringing together those who make hiring decisions to discuss how we move from talk to action.
Are things changing for the better? Absolutely. Are things changing for the better fast enough?
Not yet. But we are absolutely on the right track, and with the dedication and commitment of this entire membership, we’ll ensure diversity becomes a non-issue for the next generation of production crafts and beyond.
Steven Poster, ASC
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600