Black filmmakers launch 'Change the Lens' pledge calling for 15 percent representation in production
A group of more than 100 Black filmmakers, including Park Pictures’ Savanah Leaf and Prettybird’s Calmatic, has teamed up to launch Change the Lens, a new initiative calling for 15 percent Black representation at all levels of production.
Change the Lens is backed by the Black Filmmakers Collective, a group that includes Park Pictures director Leaf and Alli Maxwell, executive producer at Florence. The initiative asks creative companies to commit to increasing the diversity of their department heads and crew, at all levels and more, to reflect 15 percent Black representation. It also asks production and talent agencies to consult a head of diversity and inclusion to mediate and oversee the diversity pledge.
The pledge follows other initiatives such as Bid Black, a database that showcases Black production talent, aimed at normalizing representation in the ad industry, which was founded by Sydni Chustz, an associate producer of social content at Saatchi & Saatchi L.A.; and Free the Work, which last month released data on the lack of Black directing talent on industry rosters.
However, the Change the Lens initiative reflects the whole production landscape, say Leaf and Maxwell, rather than just directing talent. It calls on production companies and talent agencies to have 15 percent representation on their rosters, and for producers, directors and department heads to have a 15 percent Black crew on every job. The 15 percent figure reflects the fact that Black people make up 15 percent of the population in the U.S. and in London.
Leaf and Maxwell say they support both Bid Black and Sporas, the platform for cinematographers, directors and film technicians of color, as they develop Black filmmaker databases. “The talent already exists and is rapidly expanding; there is no valid reason not to make and live up to the pledge.”
As part of the pledge, pair say they are asking each production company to consult with an independent head of diversity and inclusion on retainer. “It’s essential this person is independent of the company so there is no conflict of interest,” says Leaf. “All production companies, regardless of size, hire hundreds, if not thousands of individuals to work on their commercial film sets every year. Yet, most production companies have never consulted with Diversity & Inclusion professionals in any substantive or sustained way before.”
“Currently, Black directors and in-house staff are acting as informal diversity consultants,” adds Maxwell. “These individuals do not have the prerequisite qualifications, and the expectation for them to consult is in addition to their normal everyday workload. This responsibility needs to be given to an independent, experienced consultant that supports all underrepresented talent and staff and ensures long-term accountability across all production companies and film crews within the commercial film industry.”
Companies that have signed the pledge so far include Park Pictures, Luti Media, Academy Films, Somesuch and Rattling Stick. In addition to Leaf, pledging directors include Prettybird director Calmatic, who was named Creativity’s Director of the Year last month, music video director Karena Evans, director Aristotle Torres, and director/ executive producer at Sam Frank Productions Maya Table.
Maxwell adds: “Acknowledging racism exists and continuing with business as usual is not an acceptable option anymore when there is clear and overdue work that needs to be done regarding racial equality and equity in production. Change The Lens presents a critical mechanism for moving us forward as an industry and for holding one another accountable in the process.”