Imagination Connoisseur, Corey Drayton, offers a fresh look at the Walter Mosley revelations and shares his personal story of being bi-racial in the media industry.
Greetings and salutations Robert,
Recently, I discovered your channel, and have been thoroughly enjoying your content. While I do find myself in passionate agreement and vehement opposition to your analysis in equal measure, I greatly value your commitment to independent thought and mutual courtesy in the face of disagreement. You bring a degree of class that is sorely needed in the spicy discourse of geek culture. To be open-minded has long been a principle virtue in the community of imagination connoisseurs.
Before the story slips into cryosleep, I wanted to offer a comment on the Walter Mosley revelation. Having read and enjoyed his work for many years, the incident stuck a personal nerve for me. He and I share a very similar background; I am biracial—part black, white and of German Jewish stock, and have experienced my own share of… peculiarities… in the industry pursuant to this growing trend of Social Justice/Identity Politics manifested in HR. I feel compelled to push-back somewhat on the degree to which Social Justice ideology is downplayed as a concerning influence in the industry. By way of empirical evidence, I can offer mere anecdotes, which I hope will lend some credence to the argument. I wanted to share this with you because you have repeatedly demonstrated that you are open to many points of view, and have a keen mind for analysis. I think I can count on you for the straight dope.
I have been a professional in the industry since 2005. My focus and training primarily in camera department. I worked my way up as camera PA, 2nd AC, 1st AC, Stedicam Operator, and have been a DP for the last 9 years. I hold a BA, BFA, and MFA from reputable film schools, and am one of a handful in my market who trained on S16mm and 35mm film. I was among the first to train on the RED ONE, and routinely work with both RED and ARRI Alexa camera systems. Shameless, credentialism aside, I can point to a demarcation point wherein Identity Politics influencing hiring decisions manifested in my career. I had relocated to the Pacific Northwest, shifting my focus from features, documentaries and television, to commercials.
Up to 2015, I could reliably count on my merits as a technician to win a bid. Around 2016 I noticed a sharp decline in work from agencies with whom I had long established relationships. The few calls that did come in were chiefly for “diversity-related” content. Essentially, if the need for diversity and representation on the crew was mandated for a given project, I was in consideration. If the project was targeting a more mainstream segment of the market, I was suddenly “not the right cultural fit.” Essentially, I had been relegated to a diversity hire, to be trotted out when it was politically expedient for the agency in question. My technical skills, my experience, my education, all secondary and tertiary considerations to the degree of melanin in my skin. Diversity? Or Tokenism?
Further, in my market, it has become standard practice to cast minorities in front of the camera, while crew positions remain largely filled by non-minorities. Disclaimer: I’m neither advocating interventionism, nor do I think that my minority status should entitle me to advantage. I think the jobs should go to the best qualified, and market demographics regarding technicians do support a reasonable assumption that most of those qualified will not be minorities. My point is, rank hypocrisy in hiring appears to be de rigueur to the professed social justice ideology so pronounced in the HR departments of many agencies. I’m aware that this is by no means an argument, it’s a simple observation. This “race-conscious” bifurcation in hiring has lead to an on-set dynamic none too dissimilar from the predatory nature of a Minstrel Show. To wit: I have witnessed articulate, mainstream sounding black talent being encourage to “black it up” for the camera; cultivating a more “culturally authentic” presentation for the client. This occurs at the hands of people who profess a Social Justice mindset.
Now, I’m entering the realm of speculation, but here is my assessment: Within the Identity Politics component of Social Justice ideology, there is an a priori assumption that persons of colour come from a prescribed set of disadvantaged circumstances. Thus, it is assumed there is always a competence gap between candidates of colour and whites. Exceptions to this a priori assumption, such as myself, represent a direct threat to the “critical race theory” component of Social Justice. I came from a wealthy family, was raised and educated in Europe and speak four languages. I do not come from the standard ghetto background projected onto many in the US who share my skin tone. I have been routinely grilled by clients and agencies over my qualifications. My resume and showreel have been routinely cast in doubt. I have been asked for degrees of verification that most would find degrading. I have been frequently ghosted in the bidding process; in some cases, my creative pitches stolen by agencies and given to others to execute.
Now, I do concede that there is a degree to which some of these experiences are routine in the industry—you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate. I take that as an axiom. Nevertheless, when I compare notes with my white colleagues, I am met with astonishment that such practices could be ocurring. We are clearly having different experiences of the market. I never encountered anything like this before the proliferation of Social Justice in our industry. I want to stress that, while I can’t prove causation, I am confident that there is a correlation based on the “critical race theory” framework within Social Justice. I can distinctly recall that during my time at university in the late ‘90s and early naughties, post-modernism, marxist critical theory, and intersectional theory were the primary tools used to “deconstruct” art. Studies of film history and art history were largely vehicles for proliferation of the Marxist intersectional theory of individuals like Laura Mulvey and Bell Hooks. This would have been fine if counterarguments had been presented and debate had been encouraged. That was not the case. Intersectionality as orthodoxy was the order of the day. It wasn’t long before the same tools of analysis were applied to everything beyond art; socioeconomics, the soft-sciences etc. People educated in this fashion have since become the HR professionals that populate many of the agencies.
My business evaporated over the ensuing years. I kept it on life-support, expanded my offering and services. Hell-for-leather I networked, trusting that face-to-face interaction would demonstrate that I am indeed competent, dare I say, “clean.” It was all in vain. In November of 2018 I was diagnosed with Stage IV Cancer at 36. The physical realities of cancer treatment has forced me to let camera department go for the time being and as such have placed me in a position to better observe this trend in the industry and formulate a riposte. Owing to fears of career self-detonation, were I to speak publicly about these experiences, cancer has a way of putting things in perspective. I no longer fear the repercussions of speaking out. I’ve since shifted my focus to writing and brand development expecting to meet much of the same ideological flak as heretofore outlined. That won’t stop me from showing up and doing the work. I hope that I will be able to regain lost ground in some capacity. Time will tell.
Inasmuch as I yearn for the greater commitment to merit I enjoyed in days gone by, this is only one man’s experience. I will not claim to have objectivity on this particular issue. Sharing this may encourage others to sound their yawp over the rooftops of the world, as Mr. Mosley’s recent op-ed has for me. Thank for you lending your time and attention. The consideration you offer to reading letters from listeners is appreciated. Here’s looking forward to your remarks, and I hope this can do some good for others in the industry.
Live long, and prosper.