I recently read a blog post that offered a set of questions that a content creator should ask themselves when creating content to prevent unconsciously recreating stereotypes. The intended audience is for blog writers and other authors but screen-based creators may also find this useful. The author calls it their REACH system: Representation, Experience, Accessibility, Compensation and Harm Reduction.
I encourage you to read the short post but I offer a couple of questions that film, tv and digital media creators can ask themselves under these headings (and I thank the speakers at the recent iLunch Representation in Interactive Digital Media that I moderated for some of these ideas – Megan Byrne, Rob Elsworthy, Winnie Jong and Miriam Verburg).
- How does the story you’re telling impact people from different backgrounds. Take a look at the list in the blog post and see the description of diversity. It is much more than skin colour or sexual orientation and also includes age, educational background, family composition, location and more. If we move away from tick boxes it will be easier to be truly representative. [Yes, tick boxes are a necessary evil when measuring progress but shouldn’t be anywhere near the creative process IMHO]
- I’m not going to suggest that creators should be limited in the stories that they can tell but I will suggest that you ask yourself if you’re the best person to tell a particular story. Ask yourself if the story might be more authentic if you included people with different lived experience in the creative process either as consultants or co-creators. When you do research don’t limit yourself to books and articles but talk to people. Rob Elsworthy told the story at the iLunch of creating a game with a black woman as the main character. As a black man he realized he couldn’t effectively portray a black woman until he spoke to several.
- Have you made your content accessible to a wide audience. This means considering more than described video and closed captioning. It’s considering where colour-blindness might have an impact (e.g. is an important clue to the mystery dependent on the colour of the fabric found). Do characters speak at the right pace for the captions to follow or do they talk too fast? Is there too much background noise. If it’s a game are the controls customizable? Do a little research and you’ll find all sorts of accessibility guides.
- These questions try to get creators to consider whether they are benefitting financially from other people’s stories and suggest that perhaps creators should find a way to compensate the owners of the stories. I’ve blogged before about ImagineNative’s excellent “Indigenous Protocols and Pathways” guide to working with Indigenous communities for screen-based creators. It has suggestions for how to give back to communities even when working with what we would consider ‘public domain’ stories.
- Do a pass on your creative material and consider whether you have unintentionally reinforced any stereotypes. Production can also insert stereotypes without thinking (or intentionally) so sometimes it is out of your hands as a content creator. You will be farther ahead though if you think about it before delivering that draft.
Improving representation and being more authentic in story telling is a process. Guides like this one do a great job in translating the issues for content creators so that we can all be better.