With the belief that brands must lead by example, P&G knows it can’t have gaps in its system if it wants to be an advocate. So it has built ’Widen the Screen’ an initiative that aims to increase Black representation in the film, TV and ad industry, across all touchpoints of the creative process.
Its chief communications officer, Damon Jones, talks to The Drum about why the initiative is a blueprint for real change, for creators of every race and creed.
Expanding on the work it started with ‘The Talk’, ‘The Look’ and ‘The Choice’, last week (30 March) Procter & Gamble (P&G) introduced ‘Widen the Screen’. An initiative built to improve the inclusion of Black creators across film, television and advertising, P&G hopes it will enact sustained and systemic change.
“Each of our initiatives is different in its own way,” explains Damon Jones, chief communications officer at P&G, as to what makes ’Widen the Screen’ different from previous work.
While in the past, P&G work has focused on creating conversation, he clarifies that Widen the Screen is a comprehensive, systemic program that looks at access across all spheres – from investment, content creation, talent inclusion and partnerships – because they all work together.
“What sets this apart is the systemic approach in which we’re taking to inclusion,“ he says. “There’s a lot of good intentions out there, but until you really begin to understand why things aren’t happening in the way that they should be, then you really can't get to the root and cause of that issue.“
On and off screen, the representation of Black people is an ongoing problem that results in damaging stereotypes. Less than 6% of writers, directors and producers of US-produced films are Black, while only eight of 1,447 directors identified as Black women. And, on screen, 33% of the top 100 films in 2019 had no Black girls or women in any speaking or named roles.
With ads, TV and films often written by white creators, this offers a narrow view of Black culture, where stories are often portrayed as one of two extremes – struggle or triumph.
Beyond encouraging people to recognise where systemic racism exists, through Widen the Screen, P&G has builds a system to stamp it out. So far, it has announced a content deal with LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Spring Hill Entertainment, it is supporting Queen Latifah's Queen Collective, which supports Black women writers and directors, and it is working with the collective Saturday Morning to create scripted stories told in 8 minutes and 46 seconds (referencing George Floyd’s death as a result of police brutality).
“By creating content, we're bringing more people into the industry,“ Jones insists. “It demonstrates that when we have more Black people behind the camera, they can create high-quality content that's relevant. We’re working on nine films over the next several months. We’ll take the crews who put those films together and we'll create more opportunities for them in the ad industry.
“When someone says, oh I don't know any Black makeup artists, I’m going to raise my hand and say, well I do because I worked with one.“
To announce the initiative, P&G released an emotive film that encourages people to confront internalised prejudice. It follows the lives of three groups of Black people – a bunch of kids that enter a shop, a woman leaving the supermarket with her kids, and a man making his way to an undisclosed location. Working to subvert the viewer, it shows how ingrained Black stereotypes lead people to assume the characters as thugs or down and out when they're just normal American citizens going about their normal day.
While previous P&G diversity and inclusion campaigns have been project-based by design, Jones says he envisions ’Widen the Screen’ as a new way of working, rather than a short-term initiative.
“Brands need to lead by example and that starts with what is happening within the walls of their company,“ Jones suggests.
He details how P&G started on our journey by asking: what do we need to do to ensure that we're in a positive to advocate. “That means being clear on our own representation, looking at where we have gaps in our systems and then being honest enough to address them.
“It’s not about being perfect, it's about progress. When you can recognise and acknowledge there's a problem, then you can go ahead and do something about it.“
While the campaign targets Black representation specifically, P&G intends to take it further afield. “We want to normalise equality,” Jones asserts. “Normalising diversity and the richness of stories, not just for Black creators but for creators of every race and creed. We’re starting with this specific focus on Black creators so we can demonstrably move the needle.”