A Lesson in Stereotype Threat Avoidance
Does this group look like they know anything about diversity?
This article linked above made a collection of diverse creative friends of mine throw things across the room. Fortunately, the cats landed on their feet… Why? Because of this title and caption:
Animation Roundtable: Seth Rogen and 6 More on Avoiding Ethnic Stereotypes and How to “Break the Mold” of Princesses
A panel of top toon creators — including Byron Howard (‘Zootopia), Garth Jennings (‘Sing’), Travis Knight (‘Kubo and the Two Strings’), Mike Mitchell (‘Trolls’), John Musker (‘Moana’) and Mark Osborne (‘The Little Prince’) — reveal their surprising inspirations, when to avoid having certain characters kiss and why you have to “kill yourself” when working in animation.
If there was ever a lesson to be learned in our modern society it’s this: Stop talking about diversity when there isn’t any diversity in your damn panel.
Why are white men always the go to choice for panels on: diversity, climate change, and even on topics they literally know nothing about such as women’s health issues?
Nothing makes diverse creatives madder than a cat in a blender, than seeing a panel of white men talking about diversity in a particular industry, as if they could possibly know ANYTHING about the topic first-hand. And this doesn’t appear to be changing.
Dramas are bad, sitcoms are worse, and late night fares worst of all: women only account for 18 percent of the staff positions on these shows (which include talk shows and game shows), and minorities only hold 3.5 percent of staff positions. White men continue to hold the overwhelming majority of executive producer positions; women only hold 15.1 percent. Breaking it down by individual network, the worst offender is Fox, where women hold only 2.3 percent of executive producer positions. It’s not much better at NBC, though, where women hold 2.7 percent of those spots, or HBO, where women account for 9.5 percent. Minorities only make up a significant share of executive producer positions on three networks, and you can probably guess two of them: BET, El Rey, and FX. At NBC, a grand total of zero executive producer positions are held by minority writers.
These very same men are not only annoying diverse creatives but in essence telling them to happily go fuck themselves because “We’re white men, we are the ultimate authority on everything. Ask anyone.”
“We don’t need to research, hire or deal with minorities in any way except as they become fodder for whatever tripe we are going to deliver into the aether and tell people to consume it with the promise of diverse thinking, diverse cultural norms and hopes of representation, never being told that behind the scenes, it’s six white guys doing whatever Google tells them will be appropriate.”
On screen, TV is more diverse than ever. Why aren't writing staffs catching up? In 2013, within two weeks of beginning…www.slate.com
You really want to avoid ethnic stereotypes in your writing? Know some people from the group you are writing about. Talk to them. Befriend them. Engage them. Live among them. And for God’s sake, listen to them.
This isn’t that hard. Most of the racial stereotypes which frequent nearly every script you see anywhere exist because of the whiteness of the writing room and the horror of this statistic:
75% of white people have NO minority members of any social group within their circle of friends, acquaintances, in their circles of work or worship. (No, I am not making this up, either.)
"All my black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one black friend." That's the…www.washingtonpost.com
This would apply to nearly every writer’s room not headed by or coordinated by a person of color, or other minority group. If you really want to ensure there will be some cultural integrity, on-point diverse perspectives, dialog that won’t make people want to “kill your work with fire” maybe the best solution is to HIRE SOME MINORITY WRITERS.
You’re not shocked, right? Me neither. I am a writer of color…
Adding minority writers doesn’t require you to go buck wild. In a room of ten, I never want more than seven to be from diverse cultural and social backgrounds. Why? Because the world we live in is that diverse now. The issues are no longer what is funny to just white people.
The question is how can we be together, live together, work together, think together, love together and occasionally even hate together (though that one seems really clear at times, just write stereotypical characters and you will get all the hate you can handle.)
It’s not that hard. The reason it doesn’t change is because systemic racism has everyone convinced if you give a minority a job, a talented white person goes unemployed.
What’s more likely true is: if you hire a talented minority writer who earned his chops struggling working for less money or shittier work because he couldn’t get into the mainstream because of his minority status, a less talented, layabout slackard of a white guy who got his job because he is the son, cousin, friend, twice removed of the owner of the company who has never done any writing but manages to get on the team with zero qualifications.
This asshat offers nothing to the mix save to consume expensive foods, annoy actual writers and wastes people’s time. Worse, if he is the relative of the owner he ends up having an inordinate amount of influence he hasn’t earned thus dooming the project to the scrapheap. See: Exodus — Gods and Kings.
To conclude: If you want to create material that doesn’t racially offend or disturb, how about knowing something about the group you are writing about. Meet and greet, get to know, share some meals, make some friends, hire a consultant, become aware, be sensitive and — you might still fuck it up.
No group is a monolith after all.
But if you make that effort, you are liable to make far fewer errors than hiring six white guys who have a Mexican gardener, a Laotian pool-cleaner, and a Sudanese nanny between them and consider themselves cosmopolitan because they vacationed one time for six days in South Africa.
As far as I am concerned, the reporter’s article is more of that insensitive prattling of highly privileged individuals who squander more opportunity in an afternoon than a room full of diverse creatives may see in a lifetime. Oh yes, I know they earned the right. Yes, because systemic racism didn’t help any of them rise through the ranks the rest of us couldn’t see in the first place.
For the record, I posted a shorter version of this in the Hollywood Reporter’s comments section. It was deleted.
The Writers Guild of America, West issued a new report this week on diversity in TV writers’ rooms.thinkprogress.org
Troll me at your peril. I am quite salty about this.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.