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If you have good intention, it doesn’t say that you are also doing the right thing

How do you cast color blind? When does cultural appropriation occur? Questions that were addressed during the second edition of the Multi-voice Storytelling workshop. Writers, directors and other industry professionals examined their positionality. The participants of the Multiple Voices -Inclusivity in Storytelling workshop agree on one thing: there are no unambiguous answers to these questions. But afterwards they unanimously concluded: they are now better able to start a conversation about diversity and inclusivity.

By Mina Etemad
Photo: Almicheal Fraay

During the workshop, led by Winnie Roseval, the participants discussed their own cases and talked to the makers Anu Henriques and Hannah Price of the feature film Rocks and Eché Janga and Esther Duysker of the feature film Buladó. In both films, extensive thought was given to diversity and inclusivity during the making process. Participant in the workshop Tessel Jonkers found it valuable to hear what the directors or writers of these films encountered. For example, Eché Janga talked about his doubts about whether he should make a film about Curaçao. His father is from there, but he himself did not grow up there. Eventually he was embraced by the locals when they discovered that he wanted to make a film about the real Curaçao.

Forced diversity
The second day started with a check-in, led by workshop leader Winnie Roseval, diversity & inclusion consultant and researcher at the Inclusive Education research group at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Tessel Jonkers noticed that the group was very diverse in terms of age, perspectives and fields of work. ‘There were directors among them, but also screenwriters and producers like me. During the check-in we all told something about our personal background and why we participated. Some people had violent stories, but it felt like a safe environment. That was thanks to Winnie: she listened well, allowed us to be open and honest and if we disagreed with something, we could always discuss it.”

Tessel Jonkers graduated from the Film Academy in 2019 and has submitted several funding applications for various films in recent years. What she sometimes finds difficult is that when an application is made, questions about diversity are sometimes forced. ‘I think it is super important that we show a representative image of society in films, but with such an application it can feel as if check marks have to be completed. Is there a woman in the cast? check. Anyone of color? check. Recently, we replaced the sound man with a sound woman for a request, because otherwise there would be too many men in the crew. That felt artificial.”
Some participants recognized her frustration, but because of them, Jonkers also views this issue differently: ‘Through our conversations, I realized that we may now be in an interim period in which we have to enforce diversity. But the longer we work on this, the more obvious it will become.”

Good intentions
Director Pim van Hoeve has also encountered difficult situations. “During the casting of my films, I tried to be more inclusive, initially in terms of color. But I ran into things, for example with the film The pirates from next door.” In the books on which the film is based, the pirate family is white, but Van Hoeve wanted to present a more representative image. “During the casting, we also asked the actors to try out accents. I asked a black actress if she could put on a Surinamese accent, but she preferred not to. She explained that the pirate woman in the scene she played came across as stupid, rude and lazy. If she spoke with a Surinamese accent, she would contribute to stereotyping. That was the last thing I wanted!”

Her remark made Van Hoeve think and in the end he chose not to use the accent. He noticed how valuable such a conversation can be and the workshop only confirmed that conclusion. His view has been changed by everything they have discussed in those three days and now when he is confronted with such matters again he will be even more open to sensitivities, dare to be vulnerable and enter into dialogue. “I am more aware of the mistakes I can make.”
Multiple Voices -Inclusivity in Storytelling has made him aware of his positionality, a concept discussed in the workshop that denotes a way to explore from which position you tell stories. “If I, as a white maker, have good intentions, it does not mean that I do the right thing,'”Van Hoeve now knows. “To do the right thing, I have to listen to others and make the connection.”

He therefore took inspiration from the workshop for a sequel to The Pirates from Next Door, in which ninjas also come into play, and discussed the interpretation of the roles with several advisors and Asian people: could they be white actresses? Or did they have to be people of Japanese descent or people with roots from another Asian country? “If we chose white actors, we would be whitewashing, we didn’t want that. But casting only Asian people could mean falling into stereotypes. In the end we chose a Korean-Dutch actress, because we thought it was important that all Asian children could identify with her. But how we can ensure that we do not fall into racist stereotypes remains an ongoing conversation.”

Changing the curriculum
Tessel Jonkers also found the dialogues they had during the workshop very valuable and now has concrete goals in mind. “I would prefer to bring this workshop to the Film Academy, so that students can already come into contact with it.”
She has even more ideas for changing the curriculum at the academy, inspired by her own graduation project. For the film Porfotto, which is about three boys growing up in the culturally diverse district of Spangen in Rotterdam, Jonkers, together with the director and her co-producers, decided to link an educational program to their project. They visited secondary schools in Rotterdam and told the students that they too can become a filmmaker. “Many young people did not know that the Film Academy existed and that it was accessible to them. Now we have planted the seed and some may opt for the training. In this way the Film Academy can also become more inclusive, because when I studied there it was very white.”
Jonkers’ fellow students thought it was a great initiative and asked if she no longer wanted to participate. “Now I am developing a plan with various directors and producers, which we want to start together with the Film Academy. We are looking into how we can encourage more students to set up such an educational program to reach young people from all kinds of population groups and to make them enthusiastic about filmmaking.”


Watch the recap of the workshop below:


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