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Ava DuVernay On Array Crew, A Database To Diversify Hollywood Production Personnel


You know, here in Los Angeles, Hollywood is stuck in this kind of awkward pandemic middle ground. Some film productions are now operating with restrictions in place; others are still on pause. And while things are in flux, filmmaker Ava DuVernay - who's made films like "13th" and "Selma" - she wanted to take this moment to change who makes Hollywood. It's no secret that the industry is notoriously exclusive, so DuVernay and her nonprofit Array are launching a new database today. It's called Array Crew. The idea is to diversify film and TV production crews to include more women and people of color.

I asked Ava DuVernay where she got this idea.

AVA DUVERNAY: Actually, it started with - on "Selma," really coming from the independent film world and being able to really curate what my crews look like because, you know, you're making independent films and you're making it with friends, so there were a lot of women. There were a lot of people of color. There were a lot of white guys. There were a lot of all kinds of people on those sets. When I got into the studio system, it became more rigid. There were certain people who were approved to do certain jobs. And what you start to get into is in this locked system where there's only a handful of certain kind of people making certain kinds of larger films and TV shows.

And so we worked really hard to diversify the crew of "Selma," of "A Wrinkle In Time," of "Queen Sugar," of "When They See Us" - of all the work that I do. I won't walk on a set that does not have women in key positions, women in large numbers, people of color in large numbers because I get to design what my sets look like. But so many of the sets across our industry do not have someone who's tapped into those crews, and so what we've created Array Crew to do is to say, if you don't know women and people of color, here are some that you should know.

CHANG: OK, so real quickly, explain how this database, Array Crew, works. It's like this huge reservoir of thousands of profiles of potential crew members, right?

DUVERNAY: Yes, we launched this week, and there are already 3,000 profiles in the system. And it's completely free to the crew member. So in order to be in Array Crew, you have to have at least one credit in our industry. You have to be at least 18 years old and eligible to work in the United States. From there, we connect you with and make your profile visible to every major studio and streamer in this town. And this is really the important part because, you know, there are other databases and lists out there which we applaud - we think there's room for everyone.

The difference with Crew is we built this alongside the studios and networks. We said we're nonprofit. We want to make sure that this is always free to the crew member, so the studios and the streamers should pay for it. So they've actually invested in this. And they have skin in the game. They have stakes in this whole process and this whole experiment to say, we paid for this, so now we're going to use it.

CHANG: So how does someone get into this database? Like, can anyone who belongs to an underrepresented group in Hollywood just put their profile into this database?

DUVERNAY: Exactly. It's really easy. It's kind of like IMDb meets LinkedIn. It's LinkedIn for below the line in the entertainment industry. And just so people know, below the line is basically the scroll that people walk out on. When we used to go to the movies and all the credits come up at the end, those are the people who are below the line. And those are hardworking people who, you know, really power all of the film and television that we enjoy. And so the idea is that any of those folks can go in and make a profile. And, you know, some of my favorite riggers and gaffers are not folks that are interested in making profiles, so they can call us. We have a whole Crew relations team that can put their profile together.

And so basically, you make this profile and it becomes visible to anyone that is searching for you. So let's say you're a scenic painter in Chicago, and you are a woman, and you want to get on the radar. When the line producer goes in and is looking for folks, they put in scenic painter, and you'll pop up. It sounds really simple, but to think that in our industry, the way that crews are put together is all about kind of word of mouth, and if you're not in that circle, then you don't get hired. And the idea is that we break up that word of mouth, and we create something that is organized and that gives everyone visibility.

CHANG: I'm curious. Why specifically did you decide to focus on the crew and not so much on boosting representation on screen?

DUVERNAY: Well, we have a lot of people working on representation on screen. I mean, I'm a part of an effort for women directors with "Queen Sugar" for the last five years. My writers rooms are diverse and inclusive and balanced. So I'm working across all of those areas and have been for a while. What is the challenges as a Black woman director and producer, when I walk on the set and the people that you're going to be making it with for all this time all look one way, right? So it's really just the latest in a series of efforts to ring the bell about some of the ways that we can be thinking about this, you know, and in pushing our industry forward.

I mean, this is not taking away from anyone when you kind of enlarge a space. You know, Hollywood is like high school (laughter). It is - you have your friends, and you sit at the lunch table with your friends. And you know the kind of experience that you're going to have when you go out on a Friday night with your friends. Now, if there was a stranger in that group, you're not quite sure if it's going to be the same chemistry, if it's going to be as fun. What we're saying is, hey, try some new friends; it'll be a better party if there's different kinds of people.

I mean, I think when we think about diversity and inclusion, we have to go beyond just declaring it. I said a couple of years ago I was not going to do any more panels or articles about diversity. I was going to create tools to make sure that people could actually practice it, and so this is the outcome of that thinking.

CHANG: And ultimately, I mean, it can be said that diversity isn't just about equity; it's also good business, right? Like, making movies and TV shows that reflect a wider array of ideas can actually lead to cooler art.

DUVERNAY: You know, it's unfortunate that we have to even say that, but, yeah, it is. I mean, there is good business. There's money to be made, shows to be sold, new markets to be opened up when you include more kinds of people. You know, there are consumers out there that want what they want, and our industry's job is to give it to them. And the consumers who want what they want don't all look one way. We need new perspectives, new passions, new points of view. And in order to service all that, you need new people, all kinds of people.

CHANG: And, you know, I was wondering about the timing of this release because the industry is in this strange place right now with some productions back up, but many still shut down. Did you decide that this was actually a perfect time to roll out something new like Crew?

DUVERNAY: It was a really good time. We were always going to do it, but it was quite beautiful, the timing. I mean, the window that we were talking to studios - Peter Roth, our great friend from Warner Brothers, was knocking on doors of his friends in the studio chairman's offices to invite them to come on board with him and us on this process. It was a time when people were really rethinking production. It'd be different if it was a crowded time and a hectic time, but it was a quiet time, where we could have some thoughtful conversations, where people could really ask questions and ask themselves, how is it going to be when we go back, and can we take this time to improve the way that we currently work?

CHANG: Yeah.

DUVERNAY: Can we open up new styles, new techniques, new processes to crew up and to handle production? So it was great timing.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DUVERNAY: It all really worked out. We're hopeful. You know, it - we launched today. The question is this - when hiring managers and studios and streamers said, yeah, well, the crew all looks one way because, you know, I can't find anyone, the question will be, was that genuine? Because at this point, you don't have to find them. We're bringing them to you. Now do you hire? That's going to be the experiment.

CHANG: Right.

DUVERNAY: And I am hopeful and feel like we are in a space of positivity around the fact that the answer will be yes.

CHANG: TV and filmmaker and founder of Array Crew, Ava Duvernay, thank you very much for spending this time with us.

DUVERNAY: Thank you for talking to me about this. I really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.