Amazon Studios has put it in writing.
The company has formally established a policy that outlines its commitments to diversity, inclusion and equity throughout its operations. It has also created a detailed “playbook” with hiring and purchasing guidelines for the studio’s creative collaborators.
The policies have been in development for more than two years, shepherded by Latasha Gillespie, head of DE&I for Amazon Studios. As top stars push for inclusion riders in deals, and other advocacy efforts have emerged, “it was important to pull it together to have one comprehensive policy to articulate how we think about this and what ‘good’ looks like,” Gillespie tells Variety.
For Amazon Studios productions, the playbook outlines specific commitments and goals including:
• Most productions should “ideally include a minimum 30% women and 30% members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.” The “aspirational goal” will rise to 50% in 2024.
• Casting actors whose identity (gender, gender identity, nationality, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability) aligns with the character.
• Aim to include one character from each of the following categories in speaking roles, with minimum 50% of these to be women: “LGBTQIA+, person with a disability, and three regionally underrepresented race/ethnic/cultural groups,” which can be represented by a single character.
• On productions, seek at least three bids from vendors or suppliers, one of which must be from a female-owned business and one from a minority-owned business.
The hiring and purchasing goals are an effort to leverage Amazon Studios’ clout to make a dent in the systemic obstacles to greater participation in the industry among those from underrepresented backgrounds. The content-related requirements are an effort to ensure authenticity and a diversity of perspectives in programming.
The Playbook formalizes the approach and the benchmarks that Amazon Studios has operated under for some time, executives say. Since her tenure began in early 2018, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke has sought to have DE&I considerations integrated from the inception of projects.
“Inclusion for us is not a mandate that is imposed from above,” Salke tells Variety. “It’s a shared mission to create goals and a forum to talk about them and structure.” She adds that the studio has benefitted from the input of key creative partners.
“When you have incredible advocates like Michael B. Jordan and Donald Glover, it’s a fulfilling effort,” she says.
Amazon Studios also sought feedback from existing business and vendor partners before formalizing its procedures.
“This is not a diversity initiative,” Albert Cheng, Amazon Studios chief operating officer and co-head of TV, tells Variety. “These are policies that are ingrained in how we do business. This is our intentional effort to build equity and representation into every aspect of what we do.”
Gillespie credits Salke and Cheng with ensuring that diversity is top of mind for executives as a core part of the content creation process. Amazon Studios will require its creative partners to submit reports designed to allow the studio to track long-term progress.
“This is a moment for us to really apply systemic change,” Gillespie says. “This was an opportunity for us to do a deep dive and look at the systemic changes we want to see. I’m super hopeful that as an industry we are all committed to that.”
Salke notes that the global nature of Amazon’s programming business, and that of other streamers, has brought important perspective to Hollywood on diversity in storytelling. Amazon Studios is looking to expand its footprint in growing media markets such as India, Brazil and other parts of Latin America.
“Our local teams are greenlighting and licensing content that speaks to audiences all over the world,” Salke says. “We’re at the right place to make significant change in our industry happen in the same way we’re seeing such changes to how people are consuming content all over the world.”
(Pictured top: Amazon Studios’ Latasha Gillespie and Albert Cheng)