Multiculturalism. Even saying the word now feels dated and crass; a hangover from the 20th century. Diversity has now become new form of multiculturalism. But when brands take on diversity it can often feel like a box ticking exercise: inauthentic, outdated and uninformed.
And yet when the entertainment industry tackles diversity it is transformed. #OscarsSoWhite might have only been a year ago, but since then we have seen diverse storytelling evolve and flourish, showing the rich and varied depth of human experience.
For brands, it is vital to look to the entertainment world, and learn how to become a real driver of change of representations of cultural and ethnic diversity.
There are three important lessons brands can learn from these entertainment pioneers:
1. Represent Diversity
Represent the diverse world that we live in today, but never use people from diverse ethnic backgrounds as mere token scene members.
Aziz Ansari has been challenging the idea of ethnic tokenism with his Netflix Original series Master of None. Ansari developed a relatable, multifaceted, complex Asian protagonist for the show to highlight that the everyman is everybody.
When representing people of different ethnicities they should never be treated as if they were identical. Ansari includes people from different ethnic backgrounds in the series, and works with them to understand the unique idiosyncrasies of their experience.
For Brands, it is not enough just to show diversity, they must fully represent the complexities of a diverse world.
2. Enable Content Creation
Share the excellent content, tell the fascinating stories and provide a platform for the voices of people from a diverse set of cultures – give them a seat at the table.
Diversity in storytelling has exploded this year, and audiences have been driving the appetite for this. From the music of the Knowles sisters to the poetry of Warsan Shire, people are sitting up and paying attention to the individual experiences of race that storytellers are sharing.
The untold achievements of diverse people from the past are also being newly celebrated. Films such as Hidden Figures are shining a light on the previously forgotten or marginalised and allowing their stories to be told.
Brands must allow creators to share their personal narratives, without shoehorning them into a diversity checklist.
3. Appreciate Intersectionality
Sex/Religion/Gender/Class/Ethnicity. All of these aspects make up the self and it is not enough to just highlight one element.
The ways people identify themselves against sexuality, religion, gender and class are often inherently connected with their ethnicity and create unique personal experiences. Oscar winner Moonlight examined the relationship between ethnic and sexual identity to tell the story of one gay black males experience. It showed how the different aspects of ourselves are intertwined, creating diverse and unique experiences.
Brands must recognise the intersectionality inherent within diversity, and not be naïve to the role they should play in telling these diverse stories.
The concept and expression of diversity is being propelled forward at speed by innovators within entertainment, and brands have to step up or risk being left behind. If they want to be engines that shift and shape culture they must get ahead of the game, or risk being seen as outdated and uninformed.