Speaking on Monday at the 6th Women in Animation (WIA) Summit at the Annecy Animation Festival, Chris Mack, director, Grow Creative at Netflix, addressed issues of labor shortage and inclusivity in the animation industry.
“Never before in the history of person kind have we told these many stories, or pumped these many dollars into entertaining the world. The fact is we don’t have enough skilled talent to create and produce this content,” he announced.
“There have never been so many opportunities,” he added, noting that his company has executives in some 15 countries, whose jobs are to create pipelines and tap into local talent pools, both new and established.
“You need executives who look like the creator you want to work with, who understand cultural storytelling. That’s what’s unique with Netflix,” said Mack. “They have buyers who can identify a story that’s relevant for their territory.”
The day-long summit brought together key thought leaders, filmmakers and executives from around the world to discuss the importance of inclusive talent development in addressing the needs for unique storytelling, artistic authenticity and labor shortage solutions in the animation industry.
In the final “Fireside Chat” panel of the day, moderated by WIA Secretary and DEI Chair Julie Ann Crommett, Mack was joined by fellow Netflix manager Janine Weigold, in charge of animated series for EMEA region, and Marya Bangee, VP of RISE (Representation and Inclusion Strategies) at The Walt Disney Studios.
Asked what specific opportunities there are within the animation industry, the panelists all agreed on the huge need for writers. “Creating content with cultural references that people can relate to is key,” said Bangee.
“At Disney we’ve had collaborations with several international studios, working on visual languages,” said Bangee, citing the example of Disney Plus original series “Iwájú,” created in partnership with pan-African entertainment company Kugali.
“I think that being able to translate local art into more mainstream animation is also incredibly important and meaningful for people to be able to see themselves.”
Resources are key to building diversity in storytelling: Having offices in different parts of the world is what allows Netflix to work on spotting, nurturing and building culturally specific content, according to Weigold.
“Basically, we need to find ways of replenishing this pool [of talent], to grow it. It’s very important to give talent the resources and the trust they need to make their show.”
The notion of trust and creating a safe space to allow authentic storytelling to flourish was also central to discussions throughout the day. In an earlier panel outlining case studies on gender inclusion programs, Vanessa Sinden, a producer at South Africa’s award-winning Triggerfish Animation Studio, explained how her company relies on incubators and creative labs to create a safe space for women to develop their unique storytelling.
“As a studio we’re not excited about servicing other people’s work, we want to make African stories: that means opening up the doors,” she added.
In 2019, Triggerfish produced Netflix’ first original African animated series, “Mama K’s Team 4” by Zambian writer Malenga Mulendema.
“The show needed a black woman to tell the story. The timing was perfect, because everyone is looking for more diverse stories,” Sinden pointed out, adding that it’s all about maintaining a dialogue with the gatekeepers.
“They want to know what is going to make the story diverse and unique. They’re open to these conversations.”
In addition to the World Summit, WIA and the International Federation of Film Producers’ Associations (FIAPF) are hosting six delegations of filmmakers throughout the festival selected for Stories x Women, a program aimed at increasing the diversity of voices in animation globally, who will be pitching their projects to industry professionals in Annecy.