Issa Rae revealed that she requires all of her ensembles to be at least 60% diverse. The Golden Globe-nominated star and creator of Insecure leaked the directive as she challenged marketing and advertising staff today in a heated discussion at the Cannes Lions conference on tackling industry bias.
Rae said, “I still see (industry bias). Now there’s a public discourse about it, people can speak out against it, and you can see the results. I think it’s healthy. I find that there are many lyrics to change it.
“For me, it’s about making the changes on my side. Now I have a mandate to make sure my sets are 60% diverse, and that comes from realizing my own power. I can say no to a job if the team is all white, which happens all the time. How is it still happening, and how do you want me to be your spokesperson for diversity when the people behind it aren’t diverse?
“I say, ‘I would love to do that, but I just want to make sure the crews are diverse in those particular sectors,’ and being able to do that is great.”
The star was speaking at a Cannes Lions event titled ‘The Mirror Has Only One Face’. Other panel members were Bob Lord, senior vice president of IBM, The Weather Company and Alliances, and Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer of advertising firm Ogilvy.
Urging the marketing and advertising industries to follow her lead, Rae said, “Have these conversations so they can educate themselves and spread the word. We task diverse people with spreading the word about diversity, when we already know what it is.
“My challenge is: getting people to do their jobs. Make sure these conversations happen at all levels.
Rae gave her own example of where an HBO executive had been limited in her outlook, questioning the title of her hit show when she sat down for her first meeting on the series. “He asked me, ‘Why do you want to call him Insecure? I see these strong, fierce black women…’”
The idea that black women might not be vulnerable “ends up hurting us,” she added. “That’s what we’re trying to show. Once I explained it, he had no problem. I realized we were showcasing these women in a way they hadn’t seen in a long time. [and] we had an audience whose eyes are potentially opening.
Rae talked about his next project, Rap Sh!t, a show about two high school girls who come together in a rap group. “It’s set in Miami, so it’s important to have locals behind the scenes, including writers. For people to be immersed in the story, it has to be authentic.
When asked what she was most proud of, she replied, “Making a pipeline – getting people up in the industry. We don’t get promoted often, and seeing these people give opportunities to others, I’m very proud of that.
Liz Taylor of Ogilvy noted the power of marketing to convey important messages. She recounted the effect of Ogilvy’s personal care brand and customer Dove, highlighting hair discrimination faced by women of color, and how the company had played a pivotal role in changing the law in a number growing number of US states. “It’s the power of a great brand to drive change through creativity,” she added.
Cannes Lions is the advertising confab that takes place every June on the Côte d’Azur.