Issa Rae has revealed she mandates that all of her sets are at least 60% diverse. The Golden Globe-nominated star and creator of Insecure disclosed the directive as she laid down a challenge to marketing and advertising personnel today as part of an impassioned discussion at the Cannes Lions conference about confronting bias in the industry.
Rae said: "I still see (bias in the industry). Now there's a public discourse about it, people can call it out and you can see the results. I do think that's healthy. I find there's a lot of lip service to changing it.
"For me it's about making the changes on my end. Now I have the mandate of making sure my sets are 60% diverse, and that comes from realising my own power. I can say no to a job if the crew is all white, which happens all the time. How is this still happening, and how do you want me to be your spokesperson for diversity when the people behind are not diverse?
"I say, 'I'd love to do this, but I just want to make sure the crews are diverse in these particular sectors,' and to be able to do that is great."
The star was speaking at a Cannes Lions event entitled 'The Mirror Only Has One Face.' Other panel members were Bob Lord, IBM Senior Vice President, The Weather Company and Alliances, and Liz Taylor, Global Chief Creative Officer at ad firm Ogilvy.
Challenging the marketing and advertising industries to follow her example, Rae said: "Have these conversations so that they can educate themselves and spread the word. We task diverse people to spread the word about diversity, when we know what it is already.
"My challenge is: hold people to task. Make sure these conversations are being had across the board."
Rae gave her own example of where an HBO executive had been limited in his outlook, in questioning the title of her hit show when she sat down for her first meeting about the series. "He asked me, 'Why do you want to call it Insecure ? I see these fierce strong black women…’"
The idea black women could not be vulnerable "ends up harming us," she added. "That's what we aim to show. Once I explained it, he had no problem. I realised we were showcasing these women in a way they hadn't been seen in a long time [and] we had an audience whose eyes are potentially opening."
Rae touched on her next project, Rap Sh!t, a show about two high school girls joining together in a rap band. "It's set in Miami, so it's important to have locals behind the scenes, including writers. For people to be immersed in the story, it has to be authentic."
Asked what she was most proud of, she reflected: "Making a pipeline — having people rise in the industry. We don't get promoted often, and seeing those people give opportunities to others, I'm most proud of that."
Ogilvy's Liz Taylor noted the power of marketing in conveying important messages. She related the effect of personal care brand and Ogilvy client Dove highlighting hair discrimination suffered by women of colour, and how the company had been central in getting legislation changed in a growing number of U.S. states. "That's the power of a big brand to drive change through creativity," she added.
Cannes Lions is the advertising confab that runs every June on the French Riviera.
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