On June 16, 2021, Amazon Studios released a set of inclusion policies concerning diversity for both their content and production. Along with these policies they released a “Playbook” for their “collaborators in the creative community.” These guidelines are designed to promoted diversity and equity within the Amazon Studios umbrella. Or in the words of Latasha Gillespie, Executive Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Amazon Studios, “We wanted to move beyond good intentions to creating mechanisms that hold us accountable to a high bar.” In other words, this new set of policies and the corresponding “playbook” are seemingly designed to hold Amazon Studios to a higher bar.
Is this just more industry tokenism or a genuine attempt to create positive change? As a Queer Disabled person, I was happy to give my thoughts on the issue of inclusion within Amazon Studios. Before we get into it, this is being written from a predominantly Queer, Disabled White Masc point of view, other underrepresented groups may have more or different things to say. All our voices need to be heard together, no one is more worthy of equality than anyone else. I want to make it clear that as a white male, I will be trying to echo Bipoc and other underrepresented voices, not speak for them.
What does a higher bar really mean?
Underrepresented people have been trying to level the playing field for as long as I can remember. They have been practically screaming for equality, equity, and inclusivity for decades.
This means going beyond the “token black” character or “comedy relief queer”, beyond portraying the disabled either as helpless victims who need saving all the time or needy burdens on an otherwise seemingly perfect family. It means including people from different parts of the LGBTQIA+, like Non-binary, Asexual, Genderfluid, and Polyamorous people as more than objects of discussion or convenient plot points. Most of all, it means treating all underrepresented people as normal human beings instead of tropes.
— Melissa Silverstein (@melsil) June 16, 2021
A higher bar means actually listening to the people calling you out and making honest changes even if it hurts your bottom line. It means not writing to the largest demographic but for everyone equally. I honestly don’t know if any mainstream studio has what it takes to make that leap. A serious effort is going to shake things up, and that means a lot of uncertainty on the end of things, but if Amazon Studios really wants to put their money where their mouth is, that’s what we are going to need to see.
Misrepresentation in media
The last few years of media have been a wild ride with lots of ups and downs. We got amazing shows like Tales From the Loop. Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and the late great Terry Pratchett, has one of the best “gay” romances out there in my opinion and will be renewed for a second season.
That being said, there have been some absolutely colossal screw-ups that make you want to toss your TV out the window. At the top of that list is Netflix’s Atypical which is a show about an autistic kid in his late teens. My autistic roommate hated the show so much that he was about put a foot through the TV at one point.
We welcome the news that Amazon Studios will be prioritising disability inclusion in their films and series. It is certainly a step towards improving the inclusion and respectful representation of people with disfigurements on screen.https://t.co/m43etVHMZh
— Face Equality International (@FaceEqualityInt) June 28, 2021
Aside from that, Otherism has always been an issue in media. Vilifying Black and Latinx as thugs for the last 40 plus years, portraying the creepy predator as a middle-aged gay man, and using women as objects to be owned or problems to be solved are just some of the tropes that have been used in media. This isn’t even including the underrepresented such as Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Refugees, etc. Unfortunately, they become typecasted and portrayed poorly in shows and movies.
Body image and misgendering are serious issues as well. We still haven’t broken away from the body stereotypes that have been a plague to “different” people. I don’t know if Amazon Studios has what it takes to listen to the people that really matter here but I remain hopeful.
The big gamble
Amazon seems to be jumping cannonball style into the greater LGBTQIA+ world. This is where I really start to take notice. I don’t know how that’s supposed to work while most of the world is actively trying to erase us but I guess some studios are making a stand. Seems to me like being Queer is “in” all of a sudden, going from underrepresented to the accessory, but at least I can see someone like me on TV existing with some purpose other than a one-liner or comic relief for the first time, which is honestly kind of nice. However, I can’t say all the representation has been great as there has been a lot of very tropey bits and gags.
That’s where Amazon Studios is in a bit of a jam though. They are investing in representations of all sorts as a gamble. If it pays off for them they make more money and get more demographics on board. But if they screw it up, we aren’t going to be willing to go back to the way things were before. If this gamble fails either on the screen or during production, backstage, even in the planning stages before anything is set in stone, people are going to find out. It’s not going to be the same “Oh well, we’re used to it”. People are going to be furious. This new Inclusion Policy and plan to incorporate more “Othered” “folx” into the process both on-screen and behind the scenes can’t afford to go wrong or it’s going to be an instant scandal.
If they are smart, they will get more autistic actors and sensitivity readers involved in this gamble and not produce a show like Atypical. Amazon Studios has been dipping its feet in the Autism-based media pool with shows like the English adaptation of “On the Spectrum” and casting autistic actors for it. However, seeing that it also means more money and more time for them to invest in, we’ll have to wait and see how consistent they are in continuously representing this space.
.@AmazonStudios released a playbook demonstrating its commitment to diversity, equity, & inclusion. We need more production companies to step up in this way & show their support for diversifying their workforce & the stories that are heard. #TIMESUPENThttps://t.co/bVZLVjpywi
— TIME'S UP (@TIMESUPNOW) June 29, 2021
A final thought
The Head of Amazon Studios, Jennifer Salke, said that “With the establishment of our Inclusion Policy and Inclusion Playbook, Amazon Studios has committed itself to being (sic) a thought and action leader in the transformation of our industry.” Despite my skepticism around this, it’s my sincerest hope that Amazon Studios truly means it when they say that.
That word committed; if they really are committed it means doing whatever it takes to make it happen. That’s an uphill battle and I don’t know if a Studio as large as Amazon Studios et al is really up to the challenge. With so many different voices pulling them in different directions looking for that inclusion they are being promised, the entire endeavor is a tall order, it must be handled with care and not taken lightly.
I don’t know if this is a PR stunt or if this is Amazon trying to get ahead of something. I don’t know if it’s a serious attempt to make the world a better place or if they are just trying to bring in more viewers. All I know for sure is they can’t turn back now and the world is watching: my world, the world of the underrepresented, the Othered, and those who have been lied to and cheated time and time again. A tired world full of worn-out voices is still calling for that equality that is supposed to be our inalienable right.
Photo credit: The feature image has been taken by Mercedes Mehling.
Sources: Amazon press release / Indeed / Kells McPhillips (Well+good) / Samantha Mannis (The Mighty) / Xai, Morgan, and Kira as sensitivity guides