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SheSays Says: For art to imitate life, diversity must be mandatory

October 15, 2018 | 5 min read

In this episode of SheSays Says, Naomi Taylor speaks to Marcie MacLellan, founder of Frank & Lively, and producer of the Guardian’s Film of the Week and The Observer’s Hottest Film of the Summer, Apostasy. Covering casting, marrying advertising and film and advice for budding film producers, they discussed why diversity should be mandatory for art to imitate life.


Death of Stalin, Apostasy, Your Were Never Really Here / Curzon

The Drum spoke to MacLellan about why diversity should become a mandatory field in film, as she explains below.

Earlier this year, Frances McDormand ended her 2017 Oscar-worthy speech with two simple words: inclusion rider. Around the world, across all aspects of media, people stood up and took notice. But bringing McDormand’s simple idea to life has proven to be far more complicated, particularly in adland.

McDormand didn’t coin the phase. In fact, the concept of the inclusion rider was introduced in 2016 by Stacy Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. In her TEDTalk, she stated that, in a heavily funded film world where most of the cast and crew are white and male, “an equity rider by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that [film] roles reflect the world in which we actually live.” In short: if people with sway (or money) demand change, change happens.

Around the same time as Smith’s talk, advertisers like HP and Verizon wooed headlines for demanding that their ad agencies be more diverse. The New York Times published an article titled Brands to Advertising Agencies: Diversify or Else. Still, two years later, as McDormand took to the stage, inclusion riders were a foreign concept.

They still are. But the wait might soon be over. As oft happens, trends in the film industry cross over into advertising. As it happens, BFI are among the first trendsetters to fund diversity, quite literally.

The UK’s leading organisation for film is putting its money where its mouth is by funding films that meet diversity requirements across race, gender, people with disabilities, sexual identity, age and people from a socially disadvantaged background. They know it’s high time to demand, in their words, “a fair reflection of people from different backgrounds […] to offer fair access to the industry and to introduce new voices and untold stories.”

A funny thing happens on the way to the bank: when funding is on the table, the much-hyped difficulty in finding diverse talent is miraculously overcome. When I produced the BFI funded (with BBC and Creative England) feature film, Apostasy, my team and fellow producer Andrea Cornwell experienced this first-hand. With BFI’s sway behind me, I was able to realise ambitious plans for my film's gender diversity. In fact, far from the norm, 50% of the 40+ crew and 100% of the film trainees were female.

As an award-winning, critically acclaimed, box office indie success, I'm proud of what Apostasy has achieved. But mostly, I’m proud that it proves the argument for diversity remains a solid one. So too, then, does the argument for an inclusion rider. Because despite the fact that employing diverse teams has proven to be a financially savvy move, and just plain right, most agencies are still dragging their feet. If they aren’t stepping up now, it’s time for those with sway (or money) to make it far too difficult for them not to.

McDormand planted the seed. It’s time for it to flourish.

Vote for Apostasy as Best British Film of the Year here.

Marcie MacLellan is founder of Frank & Lively, a proudly-diverse East London content agency. Passionate about changing the portrayal of women in the media, Marcie premiered a documentary on the subject at Southbank’s Women of the World (WOW) Festival. She is the longest standing director with SheSays, a global network pursuing equality for women in media, and writes in leading newspapers and speaks at global events to challenge the lack of gender equality in media. Her recent feature film, Apostasy was named by The Observer as one of the top ten hottest films to watch this summer.

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