Universal Teams With Geena Davis Institute, USC for Software to Increase Latinx Representation

Geena Davis Bentonville Film Festival Backdrop 2019 - Getty - H 2020
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Spellcheck for Bias will also be fine-tuned by industry advisers such as Kate del Castillo, America Ferrera’s company Harness and Will Packer Productions’ James Lopez.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has partnered with Universal Filmed Entertainment Group to pilot its “Spellcheck for Bias” digital tool, this time in order to help increase Latinx representation onscreen.

Spellcheck for Bias, a collaboration between the Institute and USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, analyzes scripts, manuscripts and advertising briefs to create a breakdown of characters and dialogue by gender, race, LGBTQIA identity and disability. It also can correlate these characters with such attributes as violence, discrimination and intelligence. Universal’s Global Talent Development & Inclusion department will work with a team of industry advisors to develop criteria to help Spellcheck identify Latinx representation. Once the software updates are implemented, UFEG companies Universal Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, Focus Features and NBC Entertainment will test the program with its scripts, with an eye toward further expanding its capability to detect other underrepresented groups.

The industry advisers who will help develop the new criteria include actress/producer Kate del Castillo, America Ferrera’s company Harness, Blumhouse Productions’ Bea Sequeira, Brownstone Productions’ Alison Small, Lord Miller’s Aditya Sood, Will Packer Productions’ James Lopez and the New York Latino Film Festival’s Calixto Chinchilla, as well as executives from across NBCUniversal.

The idea is that Spellcheck for Bias will serve as just that — a tool that can reveal unconscious bias in whether and how Latinx characters are represented, so that scripts can be adjusted and casting decisions made to better reflect reality. According to the Geena Davis Institute’s upcoming annual See Jane 2020 report, which examines gender, race, LGBTQIA and disability representation across the U.S.' 100 highest-grossing films, Latinx Americans make up 18.3 percent of the U.S. population but just 4.7 percent of characters.

“I’m so thrilled that NBCUniversal has committed to working with us on this pilot program,” Davis said Wednesday in a statement. “Their support will be extremely valuable in developing the tool to address the sparse and underdeveloped portrayals of the Latinx community, which our upcoming study underscores. I believe our Spellcheck for Bias is going to be the biggest game changer of all in creating onscreen inclusion and will help NBCUniversal and other studios identify opportunities to dramatically increase Latinx representations in their content, to counteract the conscious and unconscious bias in all of us.”

“As our studio and family of filmmakers continue to make strides throughout the production process towards more inclusive storytelling for all underrepresented groups, identifying additional resources to help improve and increase Latinx portrayals onscreen is one of our top priorities,” said Universal Pictures president Peter Cramer. “With this pilot, we hope to create a reference of data points for our creative partners and industry at large to use during early stages of script development.”

“The topic of onscreen representation remains at the forefront of all our conversations with leading coalitions, advocacy groups, and within our own organization, as we continue to address Latinx underrepresentation in the entertainment industry,” said Universal head of inclusion – talent and content Janine Jones-Clark. “Geena and the Institute’s team have a tremendous track record when it comes to championing onscreen gender equality, and we look forward to partnering with them on developing an innovative tool to help create more opportunities for positive and authentic Latinx portrayals, as well as for all underrepresented groups in the years to come.”

"Media-focused AI technologies and tools offer exciting possibilities for empowering creators and decision makers through enabling awareness about the stories being told and developed through a lens of inclusion. This new initiative adds yet another pillar to the strong interdisciplinary partnership and commitment in creating inclusive technologies in direct service of diversity and inclusion," said Shri Narayanan, director of Viterbi’s Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory.

In October, the Geena Davis Institute announced that it was partnering with Disney to pilot Spellcheck for Bias’ capabilities in gender representation.