“Diversity By Design: Making The Core of Creative Content Diverse and Inclusive”

CILECT is the world association that governs film education with membership of over 180 Universities and Colleges across the world. SCEDI is the Standing Council for Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness, created by CILECT to promote the understanding and behavior conducive to the needs of humanity, through creative conversations, writing and films. SCEDI -CILECT Panel Discussion happened on October 31st, 2020 from 5.30 PM to 7 PM IST. The objective of discussion was to create awareness and interest in film students so as to positively influence the content of their future creative work and the key focus area was: How to make film making students more aware, ethically conscious and involved so that their stories have a better impact for humanity?

India is a country with diverse social issues, each crying for attention, for multiple creative approaches, so as to transform lives. The challenges of women, socio-economic divides, the missing voice for marginalized communities and tribes, LGBQT communities, backward castes, are to name a few. Film Educators have an agreement to enable well rounded, conscientious global citizens with sound training, who will make film and content for the future generations. The ‘quality of content’ is the biggest concern and challenge that the Media and Entertainment Industry is facing today. Entertainment operates both at the Local and International level, so for a story to appeal to both audiences, it is imperative that the filmmaker(s) not only understand the importance for, but also the values and imperatives of Diversity and Inclusivity. In short, one would want to listen to a story that is perhaps from a different culture but with high relatedness to one’s own problems. Hence, by definition, as a script writer / filmmaker, one needs to think and embrace the values of Diversity and Inclusivity.

You can’t be what you can’t see: it is true for all of us in film schools, media and entertainment industry, communication organizations and etc — we rely on stories, examples, precedents, leaders or, in the purest, most basic form, vivid images that inform us about who we are and what our potential is, and without these, we are left unaware and unable to be that which we cannot see currently/presently. The concept of plurality is central to any idea of India as a nation and in this context, film schools have a major part in creating this enabling environment, by virtue of the processes, projects, people and plans and make a solid case for diversity, as both a business imperative and a moral imperative.

So much of the efforts to make compelling, diverse, representative, authentic, indigenous and inclusive CONTENT rest in our humility, attitude, acceptance and openness to disrupting the parasitic tendency to leave things “as they are” in the story telling business in specific and entertainment world at large— to suggest that there is no real structural problem and make non-inclusive content that we are used to watching (as in past). The problem is real, the challenge is indeed heavy, but filmmakers and artists in particular are more than capable of dramatically shifting our narratives of inclusion and diversity.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t what matter alone. Belonging is what counts in the current globalized environment, riding upon social media. Societies, Communities and Organizations have worked hard to increase the diversity scores and create inclusive cultures, and yet the results have been underwhelming.

Many of the estimated 80 million members of India’s tribal communities lack access to any mainstream media outlets. This very often poses serious barriers to their socio-economic development, as their grievances about government neglect, marginalization and socio economic exploitation remain unvoiced. In addition, certain factions (such as the Maoist insurgency) can exploit their frustration and isolation to violent ends. To address this important problem, CGNet Swara: a voice portal that enables ordinary citizens to report and discuss issues of local interest was built and deployed, thereby promoting citizen journalism. Even a shared awareness of the difference between somebody being “included” versus feeling them “being heard and being listened to” is a small and progressive step in the right direction to solve India’s biggest internal security threats, specifically in Central Indian region.

Art can nurture a “climate of sensitivity” which in turn can spur societal change. Filmed entertainment, amongst all the art forms are more easily internalized by the people as it combines the powerful tools of audio, visual, textual and emotional mediums in a seamless and compelling manner. Film art should be used as an instrument to societal change and surely it might not have an immediate reaction. One doesn’t watch the film ‘Gandhi’ and the next day start behaving like Gandhi. But all arts have the possibility to create a climate of sensitivity and appreciation, in which it is possible for change to occur in a subliminal and implicit manner.

‘Belonging’ is an intrinsic feeling and therefore a far more powerful force than any mere diversity and inclusion strategy could ever be on superficial levels. Belonging is indeed a fundamental human need, a superior word that translates across any geography, industry, language or culture, and an innate feeling that every human is wired to want. An appreciation of this fundamental difference (amongst diversity, inclusion and belonging) is wholly needed by all the stakeholders.

In current times, Inclusion and Diversity are not merely buzzwords. From economic and materialistic point of view, it makes sense that all are treated as equal and be given equal opportunity. Casting agents have a greater and pivotal role to play in actualizing color-blind casting in the coming days. Nontraditional casting, integrated casting, or blind casting is gaining ground in the globalized world for it makes tremendous economic sense and the practice of casting without considering the actor’s ethnicity, skin color, body shape, sex and/or gender is becoming a standard operating practice in western countries and entertainment industries. The idea promotes intentionality and race-conscious affirmative action to avoid racially homogeneous and stereotypical casting decisions/calls, and has been supported initially across the theatre community. By bringing together individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, films (tent pole franchises, specifically) can more effectively market to consumers from different geographical racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The “Danger of a Single Story”, a famous 2009 TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie, proffers a powerful lesson and recollection, wherein she argues that inherent in the power of stories, is an interrelated and innate danger—the danger of only knowing one story about a group. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” This TED talk provides an effective and actionable framework for catalyzing discussions about stereotypes, assumptions, learning, empathy, compassion, responsibility, sensitivity, prejudice, and discrimination in filmmaking education

Expert Bio:  Shabana Azmi – Shabana Azmi is an Indian Film, Television and Theatre Actor. She is an Alumni of Film and Television Institute of India. She made her debut in 1974 and soon became one of the leading actresses of Parallel Cinema. Along with Acting, she has been a “Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA)”.As an appreciation to her achievements, the President of India gave her a nominated (unelected) membership of the Rajya Sabha.It has been more than 4 decades since Shabana Azmi has been an extensive part of the industry and has worked in more than 120 films. She has won several awards and accolades.Some of them are:She won “National Film Award for Best Actress” for the movies  “Ankur”, “Arth”, “Khandar”, “Paar” and “Godmother”.She won “Filmfare Award for Best Actress” for the movies “Swami”, “Arth” and “Bhavna”. She was honoured among “Women in Cinema” at the 30th “International Film Festival of India”.In 1988, the Government of India awarded her with “Padma Shri”.Her upcoming project is “Halo” which is a live-action science-fiction television series.Currently she is the Chairperson of Action Aid India, it is an international NGO whose primary aim is to work against poverty and injustice worldwide.

Sonu Sood – Sonu Sood is an Indian film Actor, Producer and Humanitarian, who works predominantly in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Punjabi films and best known for roles in blockbuster films such as “Yuva” (2004), “Athadu”(2005), “Aashiq Banaya Aapne”(2005), “Ashok” (2006), “Jodhaa Akbar” (2008), “Arundhathi” (2009), “Dabangg” (2010) “Dookudu” (2011), “Shootout at Wadala” (2013), “Happy New Year” (2014), “Kung Fu Yoga” (2017) “Simmba” (2018) and many more.It has been almost two decades for Sonu Sood working in the industry, he has worked in more than 65 films and won numerous awards for his remarkable work. Some of them are: In 2009 he won “Nandi Award for Best Villain” and the“Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor – Telugu” for his work in the Telugu blockbuster Arundhati.In 2010, he garnered the“Apsara Award for Best Actor in a Negative Role” and the “IIFA Award for Best Performance in a Negative Role” for the Bollywood blockbuster Dabangg.In 2012, he received the “SIIMA Award” for “Best Actor in a Negative Role” for Julayi.During nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has helped thousands of stranded Indian migrant workers to reach their homes by arranging buses, special trains and chartered flights for them and also  arranged a chartered flight to bring home over 1,500 Indian students stranded in Kyrgyzstan. His charity during the pandemic was lauded, and he was hailed as a real-life hero in India.
On 25 July 2020, a video of a farmer’s daughters ploughing a field, like bulls with a yoke on their shoulders, went viral over social media. Sood quickly sent the family a tractor.On 5 August 2020, he helped 101 medical students, predominantly from Tamil Nadu, who were stranded in Moscow during the lockdown, reach Chennai safely on a chartered flight arranged by him after they contacted his team for help.His upcoming movies are “Alludu Adhurs” in Telugu, “Prithviraj” in Hindi and “Thamilarasan” in Tamil.

Anjum Rajabali –  Anjum Rajabali is a veteran Indian Screenwriter, Actor and Teacher. He is also known for his leadership and lobbying for the rights of Indian screenwriters, as a senior activist of the Screenwriters Association, India.He is currently Head of Screenwriting at Whistling woods International and also Honorary Head of Screenplay Writing at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII),a course that he founded in 2004.He began his film career as an associate scriptwriter for the critically acclaimed “Drohkaal” (1994),  and went on to write screenplays for different films like “China Gate”(1998), “Ghulam”(1998), “Kachche Dhaage”(1999), “Pukar”(2000),the biographical film “The Legend of Bhagat Singh”(2002), “Naina”(2005),”Rajaneeti”(2010), “Satyagrah”(2013) and many more.In 2011 he was nominated for “Awards of the International Indian Film Academy” as “Best Screenplay” for the movie “Rajaneeti”It has been over 2 decades since Anjum Rajabali is a part of the Industry and has worked in more than 15 films.Apart from being a script consultant on several films, he also conducts workshops, seminars and conferences on screenwriting.His upcoming project is “Toofan” directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra starring Farhan Aktar.

Shubranshu Choudhary – Shubhranshu Choudhary was a TV and radio producer for the BBC’s South Asia bureau for eight years.Before that he founded the first community radio on mobile phones in India, called CGnet Swara in 2009. This voice-based portal allows people in Chhattisgarh, central India, where he grew up, to report and listen to local stories.The system, developed with the help of Microsoft Research India, allows people to use mobile phones to send and listen to audio reports in their local language.He has trained more than 100 citizen journalists to produce audio news reports. Nearly 1,400 news reports – verified by professional journalists – have gone out. In 2014 Mr. Choudhary won the “Google Digital Activism award” and was named one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine”. He was named a “Young Business Leader by Boston Global Forum” in 2015. He is also a “ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowships awardee”. From the past 15 years, he has been experimenting with models of democratic and independent media as part of a peace process in Central India, which has been mired in violence involving Indian security forces and Maoist guerrillas.

Erika Addis – Erika has an MA (Hons) in Film and Television specialising in Documentary and Screen Studies from AFTRS ( Australian Film Television and Radio School).She has worked in the film and television industry for over 25 years. Her work as a cinematographer and director of photography includes a broad range of documentaries, feature films and television series’. Her consistent delivery of high standard work has resulted in a raft of award wins including “AFIs”, awards from the “Sydney Film Festival”, an “ACS Golden Tripod and a Kodak award” from the St Kilda Film Festival.She is currently Head of the Department for Cinematography at Griffith University.

Cathay Henkel – Cathy Henkel is a South African Producer, writer and Documentary Filmmaker who lives and works in Australia. Her works have typically focused on subjects of environmental activism, and to a lesser extent, the performing arts.Before being a documentary filmmaker she worked as an artistic director for an Australian amateur theatre company,  “The Shopfront Theater for Young People”, for which she also wrote and directed performances.Her Brisbane-based company, “Virgo Productions”, produced the award-winning cinema version of “The Burning Season” (IF Award 2008; Canada International Film Festival, Rising Star Award 2010; nominated for Gold Panda and Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary on a Business Topic). The film launched at Tribeca Film Festival in New York, screened in select cinemas around Australia.She is also developing a multi-platform documentary on cinematographer Don McAlpine and a feature film. Her previous television credits include “Heroes of our Time”, Walking Through a Minefield”, “Losing Layla”, “The Man who Stole my Mother’s Face”, (Winner at Tribeca Film Festival and IF Award 2004) and “I told you I was ill” about Spike Milligan which screened in seven countries to over 5 million people.In 2009 she was awarded Documentary Producer of the Year at SPAA(Screen Producers Association of Australia) for her work on The Burning Season.She won the “Award of Honorary Mention” at the 2010 Byron Bay International Film Festival.

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