To Foster Diversity, Days of 'But It's Not on the Reel' Must End
There's an informal community of Black directors who get together on a regular basis to talk about the issues we all face working in advertising. And one thing that's come out of our conversations is this perception we hear that, in general, the work of Black directors isn't up to the level of white directors. We've even picked this up from people who work at multicultural agencies. It's troublesome on a lot of levels, mostly because it's not true. I know quite a few directors who are more than qualified to do almost all of the work that's available today. And to hear that this stereotype still exists, it's just problematic.
That this is still happening today is even more bewildering. Coming out of the burst of cultural awareness that happened in our country—and is still front and center, from George Floyd to Tyre Nichols—there was supposed to be this inclusive push for Black creative perspectives and voices in adland. A lot of agencies and brands released statements to that effect. But my peers and I haven’t seen real, tangible evidence of Black folks and people of color and women getting more opportunities. It was kind of here and there, but mostly more talk than action.
On the production side, a lot of Black and Brown directors do get a chance to work on the big brands, but it's often for the minority or "specialty" market, not for the so-called general market. And the question we ask ourselves is, when are we going to be able to cross that threshold? It's not uncommon to see the work of these directors elevated to run nationally, but the talents driving the production still don't even get the chance to bid on the big budget, more highly visible spots.
Lots of things factor into this resistance. Agencies often opt for the same-old same-old, going back to people they've worked with over and over. And if you're not in that club, you're on the outside. What also factors into this is that typically, when you're only given the opportunity to work on the "specialty market" jobs, you're dealing with smaller budgets, and less resources to put up on the screen. And that's not even addressing the elusive quality of the creative itself.
Within these structures, Black and Brown directors still have to find a way to craft for themselves a voice and a unique point of view—an aesthetic, if you will—by which all filmmakers, even in so collaborative a genre as advertising, are often judged.
What does boost these filmmakers to the next level, however, is to have a champion—someone on the agency side who'll push for us to get these opportunities. Often, these are people of color like ourselves. And so as agencies themselves seek to diversify their creative, account and production ranks, there's a great opportunity for directors like me to get our shot at working on the more prominent and influential projects.
Some agencies are looking at their vendors—production and post houses such as Quriosity, which represents me and other diverse talents—to help them show off their diversity chops. But it really needs to start internally. And so if you're expecting to move the creative ad world forward with diversity and inclusion, then the only way that's ever going to happen is you have to give opportunities to these people, because you're never going to see it on the reel—which is always the excuse that people fall back on—if you never gave the person a chance to show they can do it in the first place.