You may have seen “diversity” and “inclusion” used interchangeably, but if you’re creating like an activist, it’s important to understand the difference. And your ultimate goal should be inclusion.
The Society for Human Resource Management, a membership organization for HR folks, defines diversity as:
“The collective mixture of differences and similarities that includes for example, individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences, and behaviors.”
SHRM defines inclusion as having achieved:
“[A] work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”
Inclusion is not only about the presence of marginalized folks. It’s about making them feel welcome, valuable, and respected.
The Writers Guild of America West recently released their annual “Inclusion Report,” where they provide diversity numbers for Guild writers working in film and TV.
The numbers show that, while small gains have been made in the number of marginalized writers hired, they aren’t promoted or given writing credits the way they should be. There’s diversity, but not inclusion.
Yeah, yeah, Teresa, I hear you say. I get all that, but I don’t hire and fire people, so what am I supposed to do?
You may not hire or fire (yet), but you are creating the blueprint by which others will hire and fire. Every role you create is a job that will need filling. Every role you don’t create is a missed opportunity for an actor in a marginalized group who’s counting on scripts for work.
And it’s not just about how many types of people are in your script. It’s about how often they actually get to speak, how they’re portrayed, their role in the story, etc. It’s those things that will determine not only if the cast and crew, but also if viewers from those marginalized groups will feel welcome and respected.
Example: I’ve never seen the Netflix show OZARK. I’ve heard nothing but good things. But, as a Latina, when I saw the trailer…I didn’t exactly feel welcome.
All I could see was the story of a family of White criminals we’re supposed to root for, while the only Latinx in the story are the Mexican drug cartel we’re rooting against, which is as stereotypical as stereotypical can be.
There may be a million Latinx characters in it (diversity), but how they’re represented (inclusion) concerns me, so I don’t feel welcome as a viewer, which makes this low-priority for me.
Writers, here’s how to ensure you’re not creating a story that does that.
For Diversity in your script:
- Look at the current U.S. census numbers. See if you can create a cast that comes close to reflecting those percentages. If your story’s tied strongly to a specific city/town, check out the IRL demographics for that city. And if your story’s set in a fantasy world, the cast can be anything you want. “Accuracy” be damned!
- Well-meaning people may tell you not to specify races/ethnicities in your script. Ignore that. Putting it in the script makes it a conscious choice and a conversation. That conversation is everything.
For Inclusion in your script:
- Once you’ve included marginalized characters, they should be active participants in the story! They don’t have to be your leads (though that’d be great!), but they should be more than set dressing.
- Don’t rely on lazy shorthand. Look up common harmful stereotypes. TV Tropes is great for this. Don’t regurgitate tropes that you’ve seen in a million other things.
Writers, remember your power. Be inclusive. Change the world.
Have a script from an underrepresented perspective?
Our latest Diverse Voices Screenwriting Lab is now open for submissions!
Teresa Jusino is a native New Yorker and a proud bisexual, Puerto Rican, Jewish woman on her way to winning Intersectionality Bingo. Most recently, Jusino has done development work on several feature film projects at Jill Soloway’s Topple Productions after building a nearly decade-long career in pop culture journalism, including a three-year stint as an editor at the feminist pop culture site, The Mary Sue. In 2018, Jusino launched Pomonok Entertainment, a production banner that incorporates a mission of alleviating homelessness in L.A. into the larger mission of telling engaging, thought-provoking, inclusive stories.
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