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SXSW 2020: “Affurmative Action” Documentary Short Review

Have you checked out the selection of SXSW films that are available for a limited time on Amazon Prime? One that’s worth your time (less than five minutes!) is Travis Woods’s documentary short “Affurmative Action.”

Woods introduces his film on the streaming platform by explaining that the idea came to him while he was searching for a job in the fall of 2018. During his job hunt, he noticed something… odd: The team pages of many companies were more likely to include dogs than black people. He points out in the film that these companies are primarily in the industries of video production, design and advertising — and they’re mostly based in Los Angeles and New York City, two metros that don’t exactly lack racial and ethnic diversity.

The short forgoes dialogue, talking heads or narration. Woods instead opted to have written explanations or commentary wherever he felt it was needed, and the simple approach really works here. It is, for the most part, just a video of scrolling through each team page, waiting to see something different, and yet, of course you don’t. It’s mostly white faces (though you may see a handful of people of other races and ethnicities, but never black team members) and dogs. There is one cat eventually, at which point the screen reads, “I’m happy to see a cat get a position that goes mostly to dogs.” The metaphor is incredibly in-your-face.

As we watch Woods scroll through the sameness, there is a plodding and lighthearted score playing. The only exception is during the two moments of actual speaking in the short, both of which are clips from Facebook’s congressional hearing. In these clips, North Carolina Representative G.K. Butterfield is grilling Mark Zuckerberg about his company’s leadership; namely, that there are no African Americans listed, which is not representative what the U.S. looks like. Woods’s use of these clips couldn’t be clearer: This is an ongoing issue that seeps into most (if not all) professional industries — and companies are worse off for it. How can you offer a product or service that didn’t come to fruition while considering diverse backgrounds and experiences?

One particularly egregious example of the team pages that Woods includes is one in which the web page says something about inclusion being a “core value.” That page’s photos include ONLY young white women and dogs.

There is another interesting aspect to this analysis — the titles that are given to the dogs. If they’re part of the team, they have to have a “job” at the company, right? Some of the “positions” held by dogs in “Affurmative Action” include: Director of Adorability, SVP of Culture, Security Intern, Mascot, Chief Fluffy Officer, Office Pup and Director of Bones and Howls. Don’t worry — the cat had its own title of Junior Researcher.

Hopefully, even with the cancellation of SXSW 2020 and everything going on in the world right now, this documentary short won’t fly under the radar. People — especially those in positions of power at companies large and small — need to see this and understand why it’s such an important issue. And even those of us who don’t make personnel decisions should look at our companies’ team pages and take stock of the situation. Are you happy with what it looks like? We all have to do better, and we have to stop overlooking the lack of black people in professional roles. The dogs are cute and the titles are quirky, but it’s still nonsense (and this is coming from a true dog lover).

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