How to Get Fired for 'Cultural Insensitivity' By Netflix – Puck

A white showrunner working with Ava Duvernay hired a diverse writers room for a Matilda animated series. Then the staff turned on her, becoming the latest flashpoint in Hollywood’s culture war.
It’s no secret that a quiet culture war is raging in Hollywood. The forces of inclusion and greater accountability are squaring off against those who believe the pendulum has swung so far that otherwise good people are being marginalized and, in some cases, purged. Check out this cautionary tale of a TV showrunner who was fired after an investigation into “cultural insensitivity” in a Netflix writers room. Your reaction will probably depend on your side in the battle.
Netflix has quietly been developing a show based on Roald Dahl’s Matilda property. Conceived and pitched by filmmaker Ava Duvernay, the animated series will follow a grown-up Matilda and an 8 year-old, gifted Black girl who travel the world, X-Men style, and recruit other special kids for their boarding school. Duvernay hired a white female showrunner (I’m not using her name, or the names of the other writers on the show, because they aren’t influential people and I don’t want this story to follow them around), and developed a pilot with her. The showrunner—who, admittedly, was not the most worldly person—then hired a diverse, five-person staff, with writers representing the global backgrounds of people who might be featured on the show.     
Pretty standard these days, right? Representation does matter, and Duvernay, who is Black, and her Array FilmWorks, have been at the forefront of this movement. Problem was, once the room assembled, a vocal part of the staff didn’t feel like the showrunner was attuned to the cultural sensitivities required for the material. (Either that, or they didn’t love that they were hired to work on an Ava show and were stuck taking orders from a white lady.) Some bristled when they were asked to write for characters that matched their backgrounds, believing they should be writing for all characters. Some also thought the pilot script—which, incidentally, was co-written by Duvernay—carried whiffs of a “white savior” narrative, with the British woman and her Black sidekick plucking diverse kids out of their home countries to help them develop their skills.   
Some complained to Netflix H.R., which, per the company’s diversity and inclusion policy, then launched a formal investigation into the showrunner. According to sources, that probe didn’t confirm much. For instance, a writer had complained that, during the development process, the showrunner asked whether people in India “ride goats.” But another writer clarified to investigators that the inquiry didn’t mention goats and was simply about how transportation works in India. That kind of thing. (Netflix, Array and the showrunner declined to comment.)    
Regardless, when Duvernay and Paul Garnes, the president of Array, found out about the writers’ concerns, they moved swiftly. The showrunner would be removed, they decided, even though the Netflix probe hadn’t confirmed anything fireable. Duvernay understood this was a ship captain who survived an attempted mutiny; there was no way for her to lead now. So the showrunner who was cleared by Netflix was nonetheless terminated not for cause, paid out, she signed an NDA, and everything is on pause now until Array can bring in another showrunner—a showrunner who may or may not keep those writers who complained in the first place.
A bad situation all around. I’m torn on this one. It’s great that employees now have a venue to voice concerns, and that companies are actually following up to protect them from offensive workplaces. However, the point of staffing a diverse room is so that writers can bring unique perspectives and share their backgrounds, presumably making the show better. That’s why these rooms have traditionally operated as creative sanctuaries, and why, these days, amid the accountability movement, many instead feel they are walking on eggshells. To those people, stories like this one likely won’t do much to quell fears of offending, and might actually prevent companies that don’t prioritize inclusion, like Array does, from hiring diverse people in the first place.
The showrunner here was ultimately driven out because the diverse room she hired turned against her. Like I said, a cautionary tale.
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