Transparency behind the lens: Free the Work and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences team up

Invoke, a production tracking platform, will help determine which films meet the Academy’s new inclusion standards for Best Picture eligibility.

Following outcry from the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will implement new inclusion standards for the best picture category, starting in 2024.

The standards make diversity a requirement both on and off the screen. Criteria for creative and production teams include: at least two heads of major departments must be from an underrepresented identity group and at least six people on the crew must be from an underrepresented racial or ethinic group. 

To hold itself accountable to these goals, the Academy tapped Free the Work, a global talent discovery platform for underrepresented creators, to use the nonprofit’s production tracking platform, Invoke. The platform helps studios and producers meet the Academy’s representation and inclusion standards by aggregating crew members’ self-identified and anonymized information such as age, gender, language and disability status. 

Free the Work — which has also worked with brands including P&G, Target, Ford, Mondelez and Amazon Studios — collects information for the platform in two ways. First, the nonprofit compiles data from completed projects by sending a link for crew members to fill out their identity information anonymously. 

The second approach is more hands-on. Free the Work members visit production sets and speak directly with people about their identities and their concerns. 

“Some people will have a lot of angst and want to talk to us,” Pamala Buzick Kim, executive director of Free the Work, told Campaign US. “Some are concerned about being tokenized for their ethnicity or for their orientation, and will not talk to us. That’s why we're on set to work as humans, not robots. We truly are here to make them feel seen and allow them to identify in a way that they want to be seen.”

Allowing people to identify themselves is critical to the process, Kim added. For instance, older LGBTQ+ individuals might find the term “queer” hurtful because it was used as a slur for years. But younger generations have reclaimed the word. 

“One person recommended that we put trans, non-binary and LGBT all in one selection,” said Kim. “I was like ‘That's completely ludicrous.That's not how people identify. It's not how they want to be seen.’”

“When you're handed a piece of paper where it just says, ‘Are you Black, are you white? Are you a man, are you a woman?’ It feels like a diversity checkbox,” she added. “The moment people feel like it's a quota is the moment we start losing progress.”

Free the Work’s process can sometimes alarm people who are afraid to identify themselves for fear of being tokenized or having their identities weaponized against them. People also have data privacy concerns and worry that their information will be sold to a third party, which Free the Work said it does not do.

Despite these concerns, Free the Work is determined to help people understand that collecting identity data about people on set helps brands, agencies, unions and production companies create actionable DE&I plans to make meaningful change.

Invoke focuses on creators’ voices instead of transactional data collection, which adds a humanistic touch to a typically sterile field. In fact, Invoke generated a 95% positive response rate from crew members on the set of a major brand, according to Free the Work. 

“We have a lot of evidence of how we present care and consciousness,” said Kim. “We'll just keep bringing people to our side of the table to understand why we're doing it.”

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