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Amazon Studios launches inclusion policy & playbook

It is seeking to improve representation both on-camera & behind the scenes.

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Mumbai: This is one production studio which is putting its money where its mouth is. And it should even get a nod of appreciation from the Indian ministries of information and broadcasting, electronics and information technology, and even education. Even as many companies are talking about inclusion and diversity, the Culver City (California, US)- based Amazon Studios released on 16 June a comprehensive inclusion policy that extends its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity for its content and productions, as well as a playbook with guidelines for its collaborators in the creative community.

These guides offer detailed and actionable recommendations as Amazon Studios continues to seek out stories and storytelling that amplify voices across race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability (including mental health), body size, gender, gender identity, and gender expression for the global Prime Video audience.

“Amazon Studios has long prioritised telling innovative and inclusive stories from a diverse range of creative talent, delighting our global audiences. We wanted to move beyond good intentions to creating mechanisms that hold us accountable to a high bar. This inclusion policy and inclusion playbook adds important, additional depth and guidance for our internal teams and external partners to ensure we continue to advance our shared mission of amplifying the best creatives and content around the world,” said Amazon Studios executive head of diversity, equity & inclusion Latasha Gillespie in a press release.  

“With the establishment of our inclusion policy and inclusion playbook, Amazon Studios has committed itself to being a thought and action leader in the transformation of our industry,” said Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke. “We know how much work there is to be done to improve representation both on-camera and behind the scenes, and it starts at home, with us. With clear directives and a commitment to accountability, these guides provide a path toward a more equitable future, both on- and off-camera.”

Amazon Studios shared the policy and playbook with creators, including Gloria Calderón Kellett, creator and executive producer of the upcoming Amazon Original series With Love. Said Kellett, “I am so proud to be a part of a creative community at Amazon that understands the importance of what I’ve been doing my whole career. Inclusive hiring is what makes a change. Opportunity and an eye towards changing things through action is what makes a change. Thrilled that Amazon has put together this playbook to start important conversations with their other creatives. This is real action and commitment and I’m thrilled to see it!”

Upload's creator and executive producer, Greg Daniels said: “Having worked with Amazon Studios for several years, I can confirm their commitment to inclusiveness is deep, sincere, sensitive, and practical. These new guidelines should encourage talented people from historically underrepresented groups to feel more confident about making a career in Hollywood.”

Establishing expectations for Amazon Studios and its creative partners, the inclusion policy covers four primary areas: developing stories and characters, hiring and production, reporting and documentation, and meeting goals. The policy ensures meaningful visibility in Amazon Studios’ content and throughout all aspects of the production process — both in the stories being told and the people hired to tell them. The policy includes specific goals for Amazon Studios productions, including:

  • Each film or series with a creative team of three or more people in above-the-line roles (directors, writers, producers) should ideally include a minimum 30 per cent women and 30 per cent members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. This aspirational goal will increase to 50 per cent by 2024.
  • Casting actors whose identity (gender, gender identity, nationality, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability) aligns with the character they will be playing.
  • Aiming to include one character from each of the following categories in speaking roles, with a minimum 50 per cent of these to be women: LGBTQIA+, a person with a disability, and three regionally underrepresented race/ethnic/cultural groups. A single character can fulfill one or more of these identities.
  • Seeking at least three bids from vendors or suppliers on productions, one of which must be from a woman-owned business and one from a minority-owned business.
  • Pay equity across casting, behind the camera staff and crew, and vendors and suppliers.

Amazon Studios will provide a report template for each production to indicate whether these expectations were met, which will be submitted within one month of the completion of principal photography. This reporting exceeds the minimum standards set by the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences but ensures Amazon is poised to report on the diversity of their films for Academy Award contention.

Through the setting of goals and tracking of adherence to these policies, Amazon Studios, says “it is expanding its commitment to increasing representation on camera and behind the scenes, contributing to efforts to move the industry forward to a more inclusive future.”

The inclusion playbook puts in place intentional practices to minimize and disrupt biases, providing specific guidance that will help everyone within and working with Amazon Studios to meet the expectations set in the inclusion policy. The playbook provides direction on how to make inclusive decisions while telling authentic stories and hiring the best people for the job; knowledge of where to go for help, including tools to make inclusive decisions; tools to identify criteria for making creative choices, leading to balanced, consistent and informed decisions; and ways to foster curiosity and ask questions to disrupt the status quo about “how things are done.”

Amazon Studios worked closely with Dr. Stacy Smith and Dr. Katherine Pieper of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and with Brenda Robinson of the International Documentary Association and Gamechanger Films on the creation of the policy and playbook. The studio also consulted with leading organizations devoted to advancing the visibility and responsible depictions of underrepresented or marginalized people, including GLAAD, Illuminative, Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity, and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

“Frankly, the outcomes of DEI work within the entertainment industry have not been swift or sweeping. In part, that can be attributed to disingenuous approaches to address the systemic barriers to entry that have long plagued Hollywood,” said Smith. “But now, Amazon Studios has created a comprehensive new blueprint that will change Hollywood by elevating those who have historically lacked access. I’m immensely proud of this new policy and I know it will be a gamechanger throughout an industry often resistant to real change.”

One will have to wait and watch whether Amazon’s new inclusion policy will be applicable to its Indian productions as well. The diversity, equity, and inclusion team within it which was instrumental in drawing up the changes has “telling inclusive narratives to globally diverse audiences” as one of its main focuses.

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