The diversity initiative has outlined actions that the industry can take to increase inclusion in film, television, and other media.

It’s one thing to say you are in favor of diversity in Hollywood, to retweet inspirational photos of women directors or wear a #TimesUp button on your lapel. All of these things increase awareness of the fact that the film industry remains incredibly imbalanced in regards to gender, race, sexuality, and other variables, with heterosexual white men holding most of the power and thus telling most of the stories. But do these small gestures, however honorable they may be, actually change the way Hollywood hires its talent?

That’s where ReFrame — a collaboration between Women in Film and the Sundance Institute that was formerly known as the Systemic Change Project — hopes to step in. A mere day and a half after Frances McDormand used her Oscar acceptance speech to urge studio execs to take meetings with women creators and ask peers to incorporate inclusion riders into their contracts, ReFrame announced a series of steps to help Hollywood move towards gender parity in its hiring. These include a launching a Culture Change Toolkit “to provide resources, best practices, and training to create cultures that yield more balanced hiring,” a Sponsor/Protégé Program to connect talented women directors with people who will advocate for them in the industry, and the introduction of the ReFrame Stamp, so that moviegoers will know when they are partaking in a gender-balanced production. 

Fifty Hollywood leaders are participating in and promoting these initiatives as ReFrame Ambassadors, including: Victoria Alonso, EVP of Physical Production at Marvel Studios; Gabrielle Carteris, the President of SAG-AFTRA; Jill Soloway, the multi-hyphenate behind the hit show Transparent; and Paul Feig, the Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters filmmaker who has consistently used his position as a powerful man in Hollywood to advocate on behalf of talented women and help them tell their stories. The majority of the names on the list of ReFrame Ambassadors are people whose bodies of work show that they are truly dedicated to diversity in Hollywood, so it’s easy to have high hopes that they are serious about making change.

ReFrame is definitely on the right track, mostly because their ideas are so actionable. They require you to do something real and meaningful in order to promote diversity; you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk (or tweet the tweet, as one does so often in the 21st century). They’ve even launched a digital handbook outlining the research behind their ideas — put together in partnership with the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg — and ways that Hollywood power players can get involved now, including several action steps to enable more diverse hiring. These include enacting blind recruitment by blocking out certain details on a candidates resume and assembling diverse panels of interviewers.

While obviously well meaning, there is one part of the ReFrame project that seems a bit silly. I just don’t think many moviegoers will care about the ReFrame Stamp, and if they don’t, why should studio heads? If the point of the stamp is “to make the business case” for diversity, as ReFrame says in their handbook, then they have to be confident that moviegoers will choose to give their ticket money to movies with the ReFrame Stamp over those without it. I just don’t think enough members of the general moviegoing public will be willing to essentially boycott films without the stamp, especially at the beginning, when so many films will fall short of earning it. If the biggest and most exciting blockbusters do not earn the stamp, they’ll likely make millions of dollars anyways. And if that’s the case, then there is no business case for diversity — or at least, not in a stamp declaring its presence in a production crew.

But other aspects of the ReFrame project are incredibly exciting, especially the idea of an industry-wide Sponsor/Protégé Program. Sponsorship is so important in so many fields, especially those that suffer from an institutional lack of diversity. When women automatically feel held back in an industry by virtue of being women, unable to get certain meetings or negotiate certain deals, it helps to have someone in a position of power willing to vouch for your talent and advocate for the advancement of your career. And in a field like the film industry, where men still hold so much of the power, it’s incredibly important that men (such as Feig) are willing to participate as vocal sponsors of women.

I believe that women are often held back by thinking that their mentors and sponsors need to be other women, when that isn’t the case at all. After all, if there are no women in power to sponsor you, where else will you turn? Nor should men be afraid to sponsor women, or think that they can only connect with and mentor other men. In addition, young and inexperienced people are often too intimidated to ask someone to be their sponsor, while prospective sponsors — however willing they may be to help — don’t know where to begin. By launching a formal program that should outline what is needed from both sponsors and protégés, ReFrame will hopefully help people of all genders get over these hangups and get on the path to real change in Hollywood.

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