Metro NZ

Something’s gotta give

Can a Disney-sponsored summit on inclusion and diversity in film and television change who and what we see on New Zealand screens?

I sipped on my filter coffee in the foyer and looked around. Famous actors were mingling with famous directors; the founder of The Black List, an annual publication of unproduced Hollywood screenplays, was chatting over breakfast smoothies with the president of Ava Du-Vernay’s film collective, Tilane Jones.

I made quick eye contact with people I recognised, including Rachel House and Jackie van Beek, and almost guiltily shifted away. “Did we just enter the Twilight Zone?” someone asked.

The Power of Inclusion summit took place over two days at the Aotea Centre on 3-4 October. It was hosted by the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) and Women and Film in Television International, and supported by the Walt Disney Company and a range of other, smaller players. There were high-profile international guests, including keynote speakers Geena Davis and Yara Shahidi, and many local film-makers and producers.

The summit’s stated intention was to “posit future action to create a more inclusive industry and world”. Annabelle Sheehan, the Film Commission’s chief executive, later told me that care was taken to ensure the programme didn’t become an echo chamber. The presence of producers and decision-makers in high positions meant the summit would be “a place where you could have gatekeepers think about what they do”.

And it was. Heperi Mita (director of ) called out New Zealand’s film industry for its racism, both historical and contemporary, towards Māori; Jaycee Tanuvasa, theatre-maker and FAFSWAG collaborator, pleaded for producers to go beyond tokenism and box-checking when hiring trans people; Julie Zhu asserted that “diversity” and “inclusion” should be reframed as decolonisation, “as a means to acknowledge the power structures that are in play in our society. It’s not just [about]

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