I’ve joined the union for about a year now, working in the film and television industry in NYC. It’s the most diverse place in the world, and I often think of it as my own backyard having grown up in Queens. What I often forget is that this industry is also filled with people who moved here, hungry for their chance to achieve their dreams and aspirations – and more often than not, these young people are white. The diversity (or lack thereof) you see on screen is not any less true when taking into context the crew who make up the supporting cast. Aside from my first job, I am almost always the only minority in the department. I get along with everybody just fine, but as I’ve advanced in my career, a new responsibility that was a complete oversight to me fell into my lap: hiring.
While I am certainly not playing favorites and biases here, I’ve seen firsthand the advantages one gets when you have relations with people in the business. I cannot tell you how many people try to recommend their sons, daughters, cousins, nieces, nephews, girlfriends, boyfriends, dogs, cats, etc., to shadow, intern, or for hire. And I get it, you want to do what you can to help them get where they want to be, I’m all for that. But I can’t help but imagine that those who have those kinds of relationships, may feel a sense of entitlement to these special access. Meanwhile, I look back at the people in my own community, from my own city, and realize that for many, the chance to even think about breaking into this business is such a far reach.
I tend to come across people who have likely just moved to Brooklyn within the last 5 years, trying to showcase their professionalism so they can earn enough money to fund their hobbies. For some reason, while I know people are grateful for the opportunities offered to them, when I read through the CVs, what I read is “I’m really here for bigger things and I would just like to be hired so I can have the connections and opportunities to reach the top of the ladder one day.” Don’t get me wrong, that was me as well. But when I flip through these I see all the same stories, and it leaves me to wonder, “Where my people at?!”
See, even HAVING an opportunity to submit your resume in the first place is a privilege. This industry is not and has never been an equal playing field – and that rang so painstakingly true when I searched for resumes recently, both through general postings and recommendations, but also specifically through people of minority communities that I reached out to. In what’s typical of CVs (including my own), people will list their skills, talents, fluencies. In several of the ones I received from minorities, the number of words typed per minute is listed. This is something the people who have had the privilege of a good education would never have – this is a given for them, but until you read that on someone else’s resume, it’s something you take for granted the ability to do.
At the end of the day, I will still hire the best person for the job, but I feel a responsibility to do my part to at least level the playing field. When an Asian girl from Forest Hills, Queens, who took the same MTA buses and subways as I did growing up, found herself in the center of worldwide recognition and fame this past year, I saw the story of my own background projected and told to others. Awkwafina is a friend of a friend too, and that fact only amplified my ability to identify with her, and if someone from my neck of the woods can be a small force of change in the industry, then so can I, and it begins with making sure that everybody gets a shot from the same distance.