Inclusion, diversity and representation are buzzwords thrown around human resource departments and at company conferences.

Organisations can now claim tick accreditation for their commitment towards gender equity and for creating safe spaces for people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations.

But last week, at a summit on inclusion, some speakers challenged the notion.

The Power of Inclusion summit saw hundreds of delegates from within the media industry congregate at Auckland’s Aotea Centre.

Among the 60 speakers were Geena Davis, Magda Szubanski, Yara Shahidi, Steven Canals and Niki Caro.

Film maker Heperi Mita began his speech with his mihi, in Te Reo.

“I always feel like an imposter at these things, because I’m light-skinned,” he says.

He acknowledged his privilege, of his skin colour and his lineage – he is the son of filmmakers Merata Mita and Geoff Murphy.

He made his first documentary on his late mother, who was an activist.

It’s called, ‘Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen’.

He shocked the audience when he informed them he’d spent the majority of his production budget on paying for the international rights to footage shot by his mother.

“The cost of buying this footage can be crippling,” he says.

And production companies, some overseas, are benefitting from Māori storytelling.

Mita says in his mother’s time, exclusion of minorities was overt.

But now, the exclusion is less based on identity, and more through economic exclusion.

“Those who suffer the most economically also happen to be minorities.”

Mita and fellow speaker Julie Zhu pointed out the cost of the $500 summit ticket had prevented many of their peers from attending.

Zhu said, “I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t invited, and maybe they’re regretting that now.”

She quoted the adage, “diversity is inviting someone to your party and inclusion is asking them to dance.”

“My problem with that metaphor is that by inviting someone to dance, you still hold the power as the host.

“You determine the music, the venue, the context and the rules, and you can always kick people out if they don’t adhere to your rules.

“I prefer words like de-colonisation.”

Mita says Māori within the media industry can’t afford to be activists.

“If you are going from contract to contract and you speak up about something you disagree with, that person doesn’t have to hire you again because it’s a competitive industry.

“So, you just keep your mouth shut and you go from job to job to job.”

Mita and Zhu were among speakers calling for a systemic change.

They say people in positions of economic power need to hand it over to minority groups telling their own stories.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

Leave a comment