LOS ANGELES — In recent months, diversity and inclusion have become top priorities for companies across the nation, but in Hollywood, statistics show there are still serious inequities for those in positions behind the camera.
A platform called Free the Work is seeking to change that.
He’s a long way from the Spanish Harlem where he grew up, but in a way, setting up cameras on a Hollywood set reminds Kristian Mercado of home.
The film director says his childhood was intense and his family was complicated. But watching films was the one thing that brought them together.
"It was always kind of like a moment of peace," Mercado said.
It's a refuge that he’s pursued ever since. Now, with nearly 15 years as a director under his belt, Mercado is positioning each point of view for the live taping of a first-of-its-kind comedy special at The Comedy Store, a legendary venue.
It’s the type of project he’s drawn to these days, creating little pockets of comfort to help people get through these trying times.
But he also has his sights set on telling the stories of his own people as one of very few Latino directors in this space.
Mercado says he’s finally in the position to do that, thanks to an emerging platform called Free the Work, that has helped him get to this point in his career.
The organization’s executive director, Pamala Buzick, says they advocate for underrepresented creators like Mercado, giving them a better opportunity to be hired.
"We’re looking at directors and editors and composers, everybody who is basically behind the camera, in any type of production," she said. "We’re across TV, advertising, film and even some marketing content and tech.”
Buzick says the global platform is working to achieve more diversity in an industry that historically overlooks creators with various backgrounds and identities.
She shows how the website works. People looking to hire talent can scroll through profiles that are free for the creators, highlighting the work of those who are underrepresented and working in numerous facets behind the camera, from women, to creators of color, veterans, LGBTQ and those with disabilities.
"(We are) just matching the demographics here in the U.S., so if we’re looking at 40% people of color, then that’s what we’re looking for — for talent behind the camera, it’s 40%," Buzick said.
But there’s still a long way to go to reach that representation.
Mercado points to a recent study by USC that found across 1,300 recent popular films, only 3.7% of the directors were Latino and 3.3% were Asian or Asian American.
It’s why the director is so grateful to Free the Work for helping him build the connections needed to book gigs like the one he's working now.
Next, he says it’s time for him to be part of the change, too.
“I think the landscape will change radically as we see time progress," Mercado said.
For more information about Free the Work, visit freethework.com.