NEW YORK• In the wake of #Oscars SoWhite, director J.J. Abrams is the latest and most prominent Hollywood player taking steps to diversify the industry, from the start of production on up, as he explained in a conference presentation in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
"What we realised was, it has to be a systematic approach" of asking for diverse crews and artists, said the writer, producer and director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in an interview at the New York Times New Work Summit.
"The Oscar issue was symptomatic of a problem; it wasn't the problem," he added. "The Oscars is the last stop on the train. The first stop is what gets made."
He sent a memo last week to studios and agents announcing a new policy at his production company, Bad Robot, requiring that any lists of writers, directors, actors and others to be considered for a project should "be at the very least representative of the country we live in. Which roughly breaks down to: 50 per cent women, 12 per cent black, 18 per cent Hispanic, 6 per cent Asian".
As the memo, which was sent to Warner Bros president Peter Roth, among others, noted, "greater numbers" of minority candidates were welcome, "as are candidates whose religious or sexual orientation could provide us with voices that are under-represented".
The memo did not include a commitment to hire, but Abrams added that he would be working on diversifying the staff at Bad Robot immediately. He explained in the memo that his choice was not about quotas or political correctness, but simply about assuring that "the pool of talent we choose from is as rich and representative as possible".
"It feels like that rare and wonderful thing where the morally right step is a great creative move as well," he wrote. The memo was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
On Tuesday, Abrams said he thought this move would also help the business side of the industry.
"I think the better stories are going to come from the more inclusive voices," he said. "I think that audiences will go to see these movies. The bottom line will increase, will benefit from this inclusivity."
NEW YORK TIMES