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With Netflix’s help, Shonda Rhimes is committed to both broadening and deepening her focus on inclusivity.
In fact, the Bridgerton producer baked in a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and access initiatives and opportunities in the nine-figure deal she inked with the streaming service last summer. And now, roughly a year later, Shondaland and Netflix are rolling out The Producers Inclusion Initiative and The Ladder — two new, paid programs with an eye toward expanding the pipeline for below-the-line talent.
Both programs are supported in part by Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, which was set up in 2021 to create more behind-the-camera opportunities for underrepresented communities across film and TV. Per a company post from February, the Fund has already committed $14.5 million toward programs that help identify, train and provide work placements around the world. The latest pair of initiatives, in concert with Rhimes, suggests that Netflix’s commitment to inclusion will continue even as other parts of the hard-hit company scale back.
The Producers Inclusion Initiative is specifically designed as a nine-week virtual program to train indie producers, unit production managers, supervisors and first assistant directors, who come from those historically underrepresented communities. The program’s participants will learn from executives and key production department heads from Netflix, Shondaland and elsewhere in the industry with the express goal of minting qualified line producers for the studio system. In addition to monthly stipends while in the program, graduates will connect with folks at the two companies and others about potential gigs or other career development opportunities.
The Ladder, for its part, is set up to provide opportunities for people from marginalized groups who are looking to gain the kind of on-set experience and training that’s key to success in the film and TV business. It will kick off in the U.K. with Shondaland’s current productions, with trainees getting on-the-job training with roles in departments such as production, locations, assistant directors, costume, sound and stunts on Shondaland shows. Like the Inclusion Initiative, the Ladder participants will be paid during their time in the program, which will also transport those taking part from central points around London. Upon completion, program grads will be eligible for job consideration on Shondaland and other Netflix productions.
To be sure, the Inclusion Initiative and The Ladder mirror other initiatives that have launched throughout the industry, but they’re nevertheless noteworthy because they have the backing of Rhimes, who’s arguably the most high-profile and most commercially successful showrunner on Netflix’s payroll. She also happens to be a woman of color, and has long made a quiet, if celebrated, habit of weaving characters of all backgrounds and orientations into both her programming and her writers rooms.
“At our core, Shondaland is a company dedicated to championing opportunities for underrepresented communities both on and off the screen. We have made incredible strides with ensuring women are represented in our productions and I’m excited to expand our efforts and see real results with all marginalized groups,” noted Sara Fischer, Shondaland’s head of production, in a statement. “Our partnership with Netflix has allowed us to create these two new incredible programs that have already led to palpable changes in our industry. I am extremely proud to be a part of history as we look forward to greater representation on set.”
Added Noelle Green, Netflix’s director of production management, in a statement of her own: “At Netflix, we are passionate about highlighting a variety of stories from different backgrounds and perspectives. From ideation to inception, we are thrilled to bring these two initiatives to life with Shondaland — a partner that has the same commitment and desire to impart change within the entertainment industry.”
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