Coder Dee Tuck Is on a Mission to Help Diversify Hollywood

Dee Tuck has heard all the excuses. “I want to hire more women, but I just don’t know where they are.” Yep. “I want to hire more people of color, I just don’t know anybody.” That too. She’s been working in tech for more than a decade and has often been the only Black female engineer on her team. She has reviewed company hiring practices and pointed out that “maybe you’re weeding out a lot of people who can’t code with eight non-people-of-color watching them on Zoom.” Tuck doesn’t want to hear the excuses anymore.

Last November she was tapped to be chief technology officer at Array, the film collective founded by director Ava DuVernay. Her main objective: launching Array Crew, a database of women and people of color that studios can use when staffing up for movies and TV shows. The goal is to see if the industry will diversify its ranks when the “We can’t find anybody” barrier is removed. “When we really diagnosed the issue, it wasn’t that people weren’t willing to do it, it was that people weren’t willing to be inconvenienced to do it,” DuVernay says. “So what we tried to do is create a platform that made it really easy. And so now we’re in a space where, to be frank, if you still don’t do it, you never really wanted to.”

Hollywood has been in the midst of a yearslong reckoning with its overabundance of white male directors and stars. But less noticed is how few women and people of color appear in what are known as below-the-line jobs—the ones on the bottom half of the production budget. For decades, the industry has relied on people hiring the folks they already know for these gigs, leaving out swaths of qualified applicants. “It’s harder to manage on the production side, because hundreds of productions come and go each year within each studio,” says Kevin Hamburger, head of production at Warner Horizon Television. Array Crew, which debuted online in February and will be available as a mobile app in June, allows job seekers to create a profile that includes their résumé, location, images, reels, and contact information so that line producers can pull up every candidate near their film set; it also has tools to help managers keep track of the people they hire for each shoot.

On its face, there’s a tension in how Array is using technology to solve Hollywood’s inclusivity problem. We now have search engines optimized to find everything from adoptable pets to dinner (for better or worse), but leaving something as complicated as workplace diversity to machines is far more tricky. Which might be why Array’s fix is purposefully simple. The database’s results are organic; there aren’t algorithms boosting some folks and not others. Someone crewing up a movie can search for certain positions (makeup artist, grip), locations (Los Angeles, New York), names, trade union membership, and experience level, but that’s it. Unlike, say, Google results, Crew’s list of candidates comes up in the most analog way possible: alphabetically. Hiring managers can sort by first or last name or those most recently added, but from there it’s up to them to pick a team.

Zooming from her Atlanta home, wearing a sweatshirt from her alma mater, Tuskegee University, Array’s CTO speaks pointedly about the best ways to remove barriers. Tuck has witnessed roadblocks to hiring throughout her career, and from the beginning her team was intentional about spotting and eliminating them. “We have conversations about the smallest things,” she says. Like that search function. Array could have made every field on a user’s profile searchable, but doing so might have left someone out of the results just because they didn’t include a certain keyword. “We realized that could’ve created some type of barrier to entry for people,” Tuck says. That puts an onus on the line producer to look through the list of candidates. But that’s the point—to make them look somewhere they hadn’t been looking.

www.wired.com

Leave a Reply