Friday, March 12, 2021

Diversity, Pt. 2.

One of these things is not like the other, pt. 2

A previous post of mine produced a couple of interesting comments that I thought would make an interesting follow up.

Anonymous said...

As a white female AC, I never considered myself "diverse" but this has started happening to me often. I recently found out at the end of a show that the DP had been forced to fire his go-to AC last minute to hire me - an AC he'd never met and didn't yet trust. It explained a lot about the unspoken dynamics that I had no way of knowing about. The minute I stepped on that set I was at an automatic disadvantage, joining an all-male crew who looked at me as the one who got their buddy kicked out.

Hiring more diverse crews is a great priority and long overdue. But in the shady and often last-minute way production handles this goal, all the pressure gets put on below-the-line crew. There has to be a better way...right?


First off, that is a shitty situation for her to be placed in. At the very least, she should have been told why they hired her. And I don't mean in a "I didn't want to but they made me hire you" asshole kind of way, but she someone should have mentioned to her that she's a "political hire." Knowing the story surrounding your out-of-the-blue employment can help you asses workplace situations better. If you're hired because the last guy kept posting the show's storylines on Twitter, you might be more conscientious of how much time you spend on social media while at work. If you're hired because the lasts guy broke his leg and is on disability, you might relax a bit more and just enjoy the ride knowing you're only a placeholder until he can walk again. And if you're replacing your predecessor simply because you're female, you deserve to know that, too. So when the loader is giving you attitude or the DP is ignoring your suggestions, you can better asses if the situation is because of something you may have done or if it's more likely that they're sour from having to replace their long time friend with you. Context matters.

She should've also been told so she could decide for herself whether or not she wants to be placed in that kind of environment to begin with. It's hard enough to come in on a show where you don't know anyone as it is, but it's even harder when you're the reason their core group isn't together anymore. It can take a mental toll on you when you don't get along with your department and you have to spend 12-16 hours a day with them, five days a week. Of course, ideally, we would love to live in an "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar" world where all women would take this challenge on with gusto just to prove the patriarch wrong, but this is real life. This business is hard. Not everyone is up for this challenge. Not everyone wants to suit up for battle everyday. Some of us just want to work hard for colleagues that appreciate us. Some of us would prefer to surround ourselves with people who like having us around. It's okay to not want to subject yourself to a hostile work environment in the name of "equality," especially when it shouldn't be a burden for just women to bear. I didn't sign on this business to be a martyr. Men should be fighting for women to have a seat at the table just as hard as we are. 

Bottom line, Anonymous should have been told the events surrounding her hire well before the end of the show. I get it. Telling someone you didn't choose to hire them isn't a very nice thing to say and doesn't make you look very good, and I know from experience that hearing it isn't so great either. But it's important information to know because then I can make an informed decision about whether or not I want to take the job, and if I do, I can figure out the best way to handle certain situations that may pop up during the course of the shoot. And above all, I deserve to know because I. Am. A. Human. Being. I am a real person who should be allowed to make my own decisions. I am not just a Pretty Little Diversity Prop™ to be brought in to make you, your department, or your production look good. 

Anonymous also poses the question: "There has to be a better way...right?" 

There is obviously a lot wrong with the way "diversity" is being practiced on productions right now. A lot of shows are just telling their department heads to hire minorities and then pat themselves on the back. Some other shows are telling those departments who to hire, and then patting themselves on the back. Either way, while I appreciate the effort and it is a step in the right direction, it's not exactly the best way to do it. A friend of mine works for a very prominent post house and says he loves that his company is trying to be more forward with this, but they're doing so by promoting women that aren't anywhere near having the skills to do the job they're suddenly promoted to. This leads to frustration among the existing staff, more work on their plates and the result is an inferior product. It's gotten to the point where he and some of his colleagues are considering leaving the company. Another friend of mine was on a show that was so gung ho on having a diverse crew that when the town was so busy they couldn't find a woman to work in one of the departments, production actually found and hired one from out of town. They flew her in, gave her a place to stay for the next few months and gave her a per diem, etc. While I applaud that show's commitment to diversity, I question what kind of change did they foster in the end? Once the show wraps and Ms. Imported Labor returns to her hometown, what really changes? The guys here aren't any more committed to hiring women than before the show started. The pool of women to hire from hasn't increased. And since she's not local, Ms. Imported Labor can't add these guys to her list of potential work calls. In essence, nothing has really changed. 

So what's the better way? Like most things, you need to start from the ground up. You need to foster women, and other minority groups, at the beginning stages of their careers. I remember working with a number of women during my "copy, credit, meals" days. Sure, there were obviously more men than women then, too, but I remember running into more women that did grip and electric then than I do now. Instead of being the only female on most of my jobs now, I used to have at least one other woman in my department every second or third show I was on and it was great! However, as I moved on to bigger and better jobs, they've all but disappeared. Thinking back to the several women I had worked with back when I was really just starting out, I only know of one that's still in the business, but she had switched over to camera. Did every guy I know back then make it to the big leagues? Of course not,  but I do see a hell lot more of them around.

So what happened to all the women I started out with? I don't know, but based on the amount of sexism, comments, and misogyny I've experienced on my way up, I can only guess they weren't given enough chances and opportunities and/or were just tired of the constant battles. 

In other words, we need to foster the idea of more women in this industry at an earlier stage. While it's great that Oscar winners and other big time names are advocating for parity on set, if you're only thinking about parity by the time you're working on a big budget movie, there may not be a pool of qualified women to pull from that can work at that level. However, if you fight for equality on those shitty shows, the movie of the weeks, the low budget commercials, those short form webisodes, and bring them up with you on to the network TV shows, the mid-tier movies, those big brand commercials, there will be a wonderfully diverse pool of Oscar caliber crew to pull from. If we wait to accept women only when they've made it to a certain level, it's already too late.

A second comment on my previous post on this topic states:

Phillip Jackson said...

I feel ya, to me the fix isn't the current white boss hiring "diversity" but actually put people who would naturally hire those folks to begin with. Power doesn't like to give up power. Hire a cis white male gaffer, he's going to hire cis white males. But I find that step is much harder to force since those Hollywood execs aren't really down to not be in that hiring power.

While I don't necessarily disagree with him, I do have mixed feelings about this, especially the "Hire a cis white male gaffer, he's going to hire cis white males" part. This is where I'm going to have to be that person and say "not all men". I honestly wouldn't be in the position I am today if it wasn't for a cis white male gaffer that gave me my start. Literally almost no one would hire me except for dead-end production companies and "passion projects" off of Craigslist. It was a string of extraordinary circumstances that led to me meeting him and he took me under his wing, brought me on some big jobs, and introduced me to other higher ups with a more than generous recommendation of my abilities. He was an older gaffer on his way out, and he told me he was doing this because he thought about what kind of legacy he was leaving behind in this business and decided he wanted to promote changes for the better. And while I can't vouch for what his hiring practices were in the several decades before I met him, he gave be a healthy foundation to build my career on before he retired. 

I guess what I'm saying is that the "trick" isn't to not hire white cis male Gaffers (or any other department head), but to hire people who hire diverse crews on their own. Productions need to look at their track records before handing over a deal memo for them to sign. Has the DP spoken out on the subject before? Have they signed a parity pledge? Who do they usually hire? DPs who are committed to diversity are more likely to hire Gaffers, ACs, and Key Grips who share that same view. So while we're fostering women from the ground up, we also have to remember that change comes from the top down. As Phillip said, we need to "actually put people who would naturally hire those people [in meaningful positions] to begin with."

The last thing I'll touch upon (for now) on the topic of diversity placement is to think about who you're giving those "opportunities" to and realize they are real people who may not exactly be thrilled to be hired based on a quota. Am I grateful to be considered for a job I probably wouldn't have been called for under any other circumstances? Sure. Am I thrilled that the circumstance is solely because I don't have a penis? No. 

I, and I assume most of us, would prefer to be hired on our merit. Hire me because I'm a badass tech, not because you have to fill a quota. Hire me because you want to be a part of positive change, not because someone is making you. Hire me because you believe having a diverse crew will make you a better boss, a better human being, and give you a more well-rounded crew, which in turn will give you a better show, a better product, which, in the end, means you gain more power instead of losing it. Hire us so we can show you what we're capable of.

Happy Women's Month, everybody!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License .