LOS ANGELES, CA — Today, FREE THE WORK, a nonprofit seeking to advance opportunities for historically marginalized creators’ in the entertainment industry, released an open letter calling out performative diversity reporting in the entertainment industry.
The letter calls for the entertainment and production industries “to question diversity reporting that is backed by for-profit entities, such as the one put forth by the Association of Independent Commercial Producers and the payroll companies.” The letter acknowledges IATSE workers on strike and highlights that while transparency and accountability challenges are understood industry-wide, most don’t know how or where to start.
Further, the letter outlines more effective ways to improve diversity reporting including ensuring data is tied to strategic & long term planning, empowering creators from all communities to self-identify, ending divisive practices of grouping identities together under reductive checkboxes, and creating a safe space for individuals to identify privately and anonymously. Without the type of holistic approach that FTW focuses on to build proactive hiring pipelines, numbers alone are not a solution.
FREE THE WORK currently partners with Proctor and Gamble, Amazon Studios and SNAP, and matches them with their discovery platform of 12,500 underrepresented creators to craft strategies to improve representation on production sets.
Signed by FREE THE WORK team & board members, including Alma Har’el, Christopher Racster, Naseem Sayani, Pamala Buzick Kim the letter concludes with an appeal to both industry stakeholders and underrepresented creators to join FREE THE WORK’s efforts to transform the entertainment and production industries.
See below to read the full text of the letter.
An Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry
We are asking our FREE THE WORK partners, community, supporters, creators, and other members of the entertainment and production industries to question diversity reporting that is not attached to DEI organizations, such as the one put forth by the Association of Independent Commercial Producers and the payroll companies. As a third-party non-profit organization with a proven track record of advocating for equity, FTW builds trust and provides a deep understanding of lived experiences to ensure everyone feels seen. According to our in-house research and findings, we are deeply concerned that this type of reporting will not lead to impactful long-term change. Numbers without context or insight strategy are not actionable.
The production industry has a transparency and accountability issue. We are seeing this rise to the surface with IATSE’s current fight for basic worker’s rights. It is also reflected in the lack of diversity on set. As a non-profit established to support underrepresented creators, we express our deep solidarity for normalizing regenerative working conditions in our industry. This issue is understood industry-wide, yet no one can pinpoint exactly how or where to start.
Diversity tracking in production and on set can be highly beneficial, but only when connected to ongoing insights followed by substantive action. When collected without an intentional framework, you end up with graphs documenting only a small number of people, categorized in archaic, census-like checkboxes that only focus on limited gender and ethnicity choices. A graph with such a limited framework sends the message to all excluded communities that they’ll need to take a ticket and wait until next time. (Sorry, LGBTQIA+, military vets, and creators with disabilities. Maybe next century.) It has also been linked to eroding the majority’s trust in diversity initiatives.
The race to track diversity numbers has proven to be largely performative, and it’s a transactional solution. People’s identities are not transactional. If a solution that isn’t tied to action is adopted industry-wide, we will end up having the same conversation with the top (brands, studios, streamers, and agencies) next year that we’ve had for the past year. We will simply be kicking the proverbial can down the road to the production company to “do better,” but this time pointing at inaccurate data collected without a connection to strategy.
When people from all communities, both those historically well represented and those who have been underrepresented, trust that their identity will be seen for their individual stories — beyond reductive checkboxes and not as a quota — they are more likely to participate in demographic studies.
Providing that space takes trust, care, analysis, and ongoing plans. We know, and we do this work every day in our FTW strategy & INVOKE production reporting.
The practices that drive FREE THE WORK efforts include:
Data tied to strategic & long term planning
Creators from all communities are empowered to self-identify, ending divisive practices of grouping identities together under monolithic checkboxes
Creating a safe space for individuals to identify privately and anonymously within a DEI focused nonprofit organization
Using care, research, and first-person interviews to create conscious demographic categories and products that reflect the reality of lived experience
Belief in the importance of representing all underrepresented communities all the time, not reactively focusing on just those with the most recent community trauma
Providing not just metrics and data, but solutions for change management via trusted DEI organizations
Building pipelines for proactively sourcing and hiring a diverse crew that reflects the community
Many entities have felt the pressure to react to demands from their clients, shareholders, or customer base. In response to social movements over the last couple of years, corporations’ performative ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Love is Love’ posts' suddenly gave rise to A.I. diversity reporting, divisive studies, the formation of DEI for-profits, and sophisticated nonprofits closely mirroring influencer marketing. All of these efforts offered little more than performative grandstanding. Overnight, there was a DEI gold rush, followed by short-sighted products built to make money or make “the whole diversity thing go away.” We know that there is a better way.
But what is better?
Better looks like getting permission directly from each crew member to release their demographics every time. Privately. Anonymously.
Better looks like unions getting help to create pathways and initiatives to include more of our underrepresented communities.
Better looks like creating meaningful partnerships with historically trusted & successful DEI nonprofit organizations.
Better looks like letting production companies focus on what they do best: creating amazing stories.
Better looks like payroll companies doing what they do best: getting people paid, on time, all over the world.
Better looks like brands, agencies, streamers, studios, talent reps, production partners & vendors rejecting performative initiatives, choosing instead to devote resources to action-oriented solutions.
Better looks like transparency and accountability.
Better is more than data for the sake of data.
FREE THE WORK is committed to ensuring diversity efforts make an impact and do the work it takes to transform the entertainment industry while centering equity for all. Follow us on Instagram @freethework and visit freethework.com to learn more and get involved.