Diversity has become somewhat of a semantic satiation, the word is everywhere in our industry. It’s the buzzword that has grown even more traction in the last few years, a reverberation of the BLM movement, a conscious shift that stories need to be told through other lenses. So even though there is a need for diversity, a need for authenticity, when you take a look at the DNA of a company or of the people who are behind the camera, why is it still so whitewashed?
We know the talent is out there, a massive influx of Black, Brown as well as female directors have been added to rosters, they’re given spotlights in various ways through entering things like the Shiny Awards, features in Shots Director Showcases, reps diligently promoting names and work in agencies; there is awareness and exposure to a variety of talent, so the issue here is not a talent gap, but instead an opportunity gap.
To put it plainly, the pecking order stays the same because ultimately an established director is safe. You know what you’re getting, and a client is comforted in the belief that John Doe will pull off the job, no questions asked (I read this bit in a Ray Winstone voice).
But this attitude perpetuates the cycle and increases the gap.
So how can new talent break through if this is the mindset?
By no means am I saying it’s impossible to break through the glass ceiling. As a new biz person navigating a “hard sell” is a big part of the job, trust needs to be built, and if your agency doesn’t think a director is experienced enough, you have to show that the production offering will back them, we’re there to support, build and ensure what’s delivered is to the standard. We all want to make good work at the end of the day.
I have seen with my own two eyes that “chance” that agencies take on an unknown. A lot more time and effort is injected into the conversations to persuade an agency that this person, this amazing new talent, is the one. In turn they must persuade their client. It’s not easy but when that foot is in the door to pitch, all of the stops are pulled out to win by the whole team – it’s a beautiful thing.
Of course there’s more than one way to do that. Attractive music videos that dazzle the socks off of creatives who yearn to make something cool has seen the likes of many transition into the world of ads. Promos are a great way to flex your directing muscles but again, converting that concept into a 15-90” commercial and a seven-figure budget is still a tough leap.
It does happen, it does. Otherwise I’d be out of a job. But when I went through the list of the British Arrows winners this year I was pretty saddened to see not much has really changed in the list. Same names, same companies and obviously they are fantastic… my god but back to my point. That gap is growing larger and larger and it’s becoming harder to fill.
You know I love a stat, so here’s some numbers I’ve personally put together to show how many “diverse” directing talents hit the big time at the BAs in 2022*.
(Some directors are in duos or quadruples. I've counted all individuals. It took a long time.)
White 70 (85.4%)
Asian 4 (4.9%)
Mixed race 2 (2.4%)
Black 5 (6.1%)
Afghan / ME 1 (1.2%)
Men 73 (89%)
Woman 9 (11%)
I think the numbers speak for themselves. 77 films with directors attached and seven of those films were won by one major player (that’s like 9.1%, basically as many films won by Black and Asian directors put together). Mind blowing.
I love the spots, they’re all fantastic and deservedly won, but it’s time for a change.
There are amazing initiatives that are bubbling to the surface right now. I spoke to Sam Rendle Short, a producer at Mother about their big push to get fresh names in front of the producers and creatives through a new inhouse platform called Curated. It's so refreshing to hear when an agency holds the mirror up and says, “hey we need to change this.” (Not sure if I’m allowed to say much else about that for now, not sure if it’s even officially launched, spoiler alert!) But either way, what I’m trying to say is, we need more advocacy for young talent in agencies. In the name of ABBA, take a chance.
*I’ve used the British Arrows as it is the most recent UK awards to take place, to show an example of the opportunity gap.