The More Diversity on Screen campaign set out to begin a new conversation with the public and media industry in New Zealand about disability and diversity on screen.
The campaign was an initiative of Unique Extras, a Diversityworks Trust project that aimed to increase diversity on screen via the creation and promotion of a unique portfolio of actors and performers with disability. We assisted our talent to apply for acting and extras roles, thereby increasing diversity on screen at a grass roots level. Unique Extras was generously supported by Think Differently, a New Zealand Government social change campaign aiming to encourage and support a fundamental shift in attitudes and behaviour towards disabled people.
We wanted to continue to work towards our goal of seeing the 1 in 5 New Zealanders who live with a disability equally represented on our screens, so we asked for support to open a conversation with broadcasters, ad agencies, talent agencies, the media and the general public to drive this change. The level of support we received exceeded our expectations.
The More Diversity on Screen campaign ran from 24 March to 14 June 2013, and we were pleasantly surprised by the number of people who engaged with the conversation and our survey. There were over 1500 visits to the online campaign page; of these visits 728 people (48.0%) clicked in support of the campaign. Those who supported the campaign were given the option of completing an online survey and 382 responses were received as of 14 June 2013. This represented 25.2% of total visits to the campaign page and 52% of those who indicated support for the campaign.
As of 17 July, when this report was published, the website and survey are still active and support continues to grow.
We were lucky to secure free airtime for our animated commercial, which went to air on Maori Television on 1 April 2013. We also secured free airtime from MediaWorks, which aired the commercial on TV3 and FOUR from early May. As of July the ad is still being shown, drawing further supporters to the website and survey.
The campaign was not without its challenges. We found it hard to access those working in advertising and as a result are missing this voice from our dataset. We also have a large amount of data that we need to do justice to and leverage for the purpose of social change.
Responses to the campaign survey showed clear support for the idea of More Diversity on Screen, but we now know the task of getting more representation of disability on screen will require a much longer timeframe than we initially thought.
Authenticity in casting and portrayal of disabled characters, the need for well-rounded characters and plot lines, and the influence of media on social consciousness are all deeper issues uncovered by our research and are covered in detail in this report. Whose responsibility it is to ensure equal, equitable and appropriate portrayals disability on screens was also raised. This is an issue that is more complex than simply getting more disabled characters in our entertainment media. It is, after all, a creative space. The question repeatedly asked was, should it be a choice or a requirement? To add to the dilemma, who should play disabled people? Disabled actors, the best actors, or both?
We found resounding support for more diversity to be represented on our screens by including more portrayals of the 20% of our population who experience disability. We found also that, on the whole, the small amount of disability already on our screens is generally well-received and even, in some cases, enhances viewers’ experiences.
What we didn’t find is an easy, one-size-fits-all approach to increasing representation. However, we do have some ideas on how to make some inroads into an issue that has not previously been high on the industry’s or the public’s agenda. Several people commented that they were pleased to have this issue brought to their awareness, while this and other research demonstrates the power of the media to reflect and shape social attitudes. For these reasons we believe this is an important conversation to have initiated.
We look forward to continuing the discussion.
Diversityworks Trust Inc
Download the Report of the More Diversity on Screen campaign and research (PDF 4.9MB) • Word document – excludes raw data (2.7MB)