Woman. Latinx. Queer. Three words not typically used alongside the title of Director. When they are, you usually employ the term 'minority filmmaker'. But we minorities are the global majority.
By 2045, according to the Brookings Institution, the majority of people in the US alone will be people of the global majority. The rate of change in culture has moved - and continues to move - exponentially faster than the rate of change in the commercial industry. Until we truly empower diverse creative voices, the divide between the images and stories our industry portrays, and the communities watching them, continues to widen.
The question remains; is putting a diverse director in the director’s chair enough?
In 2017, I participated in the DGA/AICP’s Commercial Diversity Program, in an “effort to effect change and increase the representation of minority and women directors". Shortly thereafter I was signed, and have since worked for several years as a commercial director. It's been exciting to be a part of and witness the shift towards cast and director inclusivity, a shift that feels driven by the urgent demand from brands for diverse and authentic stories.
The question remains, however; is putting a diverse director in the director’s chair enough? Do us new directors truly have the power and overall industry support to make the creative choices required to shift the narrative?
Above: One of the most important aspects of creating diverse stories in advertising is being able to cast the right people.
If our industry is invested in telling authentic stories, then we need to go deeper than the surface to change how the industry works. Hiring a diverse director is a superficial shift if we don’t empower them to make creative decisions alongside leaders from agencies and brands. We need diverse creative directors, production companies and brand partners who understand our communities. We need the entire commercial ecosystem to be transformed in order for true transformation and change to be impactful. Let's move beyond checking off the box, to empowering diverse directors to make powerful creative choices and be supported throughout the filmmaking process.
Hiring a diverse director is a superficial shift if we don’t empower them to make creative decisions alongside leaders from agencies and brands.
One of the initial steps in this direction is in regards to casting - the first step in making a story a reality and critically important to imaging diverse communities. This is often the first place where diverse directors confront the divergent perspectives between the monocultures (white, heterosexual, male dominated) within the agencies and brands. Even though diverse directors have lived and worked within the communities the brands are trying to reach, we are often outsiders in the casting process.
As a director, it is of critical importance for me that my work shows true diversity and dimensionality and avoids watered down portrayals. In casting meetings, it can feel like I am on the offensive with agency and brand partners - strongly advocating to cast a wider net from the start to push past stereotypical diversity. Recently, I was working on a project where the casting director included only one Black person in their casting. The agency ended up wanting to remove them from the final selection because they felt this person didn’t fit the story outline. With earlier and more direct input, I would have insisted the casting agency find more truly diverse talent for consideration from the beginning.
Above: "Please don’t hire me just to check off a box then continue to work in the same old way," says Malfa.
When it comes to crafting the narrative, my lived experience, passion and personal point of view infuses my films with a deep understanding and respect for diverse communities. It can be my subtle communication - being an insider in the community - that helps talent open up on camera, or my determination to keep skin tone authentic in the colour grade.
I often feel I have to fight to protect my creative vision in a monoculture-dominated-advertising-ecosystem that is out of touch with the diverse communities it’s trying to reach.
However, from casting to shooting, editing and post production, I often feel I have to fight to protect my creative vision in a monoculture-dominated-advertising-ecosystem that is out of touch with the diverse communities it’s trying to reach. New ideas that I bring to the creative decision-making table don’t always reach the clients because they are shut down by established agency leaders who have one way of doing things and refuse to let go of old formulas that worked in decades past.
The new reality is that past tropes and blueprints are no longer creatively relevant and are outdated. We have a collective responsibility to tell stories that reflect the communities watching them. To do that, we have to empower diverse directors as true co-authors of their communities' stories, engaging them on an equal playing field with traditional creative and brand directors, for the imaging of diverse communities.
Please don’t hire me just to check off a box then continue to work in the same old way. I am here to direct authentic, visual stories of women, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of the global majority. I want to work with partners who are ready to re-imagine the imaging of diverse communities. And I know our stories will be beautiful.