Dan Harmon, of Community and Rick and Morty—and also uncredited rewrites on Doctor Strange—fame did a Reddit AMA in which one Redditor asked him what question he’d always wanted to be asked during a Q&A, and Harmon used the opening to challenge himself on inclusion. As a television showrunner and producer, Harmon isn’t talking out of his ass—he has hiring power, so his feelings on the topic resonate. And those feelings are, blessedly, open and progressive. 2016 is such a trashfire hellgarbage year that when I first saw Lainey’s email I wondered what awful thing Harmon must have said, and experienced acute relief when I realized his comments were GOOD.
Harmon can come across as combative—he refers to his own “oppositional defiant disorder edginess”—but he names his alter-ego in the conversation “Kevin” and then proceeds to answer all of Kevin’s questions about inclusion and supporting a diverse community—no pun intended—of creators and talent.
When “Kevin” asks about the industry’s glass ceiling, Harmon responds: “We’re already slipping into progress’ biggest impedance within the male worldview which is the unspoken characterization of feminism as some kind of charity or favor. While pro-active steps need to be taken for any effective change to occur, in my opinion, my taking of those steps has never been me ‘doing right’ by someone else. I’ve only followed my own inner sense of correctness in seeking out the most talented writers of any biological composition on the planet Earth and obliterating the obstacles between them and the achievement of their dreams.”
That’s the money quote, but Harmon also calls diverse hiring practices “common sense” and that “we’re not going to become better people by punishing each other’s ignorance”. (Harmon’s comments remind me of Patton Oswalt’s bit on keeping up with the proper terminology.) And it IS common sense, because, as I have said for years on this site, diversity is just good business. Disney is beginning to cotton onto this, and Fox, at least on the TV side, has been a leader in increasing representation and ratings hand-in-hand. And while Community was never a ratings winner, it is one of the best comedies of Peak TV, and while the directing roster leans heavily male, the writing staff was very diverse, as was the cast. Harmon put a bunch of hella funny people in a room together and got gold out of them for five seasons. (That one Harmon-less season doesn’t count.)
This is the kind of attitude we need to see more of among producers and creators. Inclusion isn’t about checking boxes and tokenism isn’t diversity—it’s about finding talented people regardless of where they come from or look like and supporting them so that they can develop into creators in turn. Look no further than Donald Glover, who got some face-name recognition off Community and then turned around and created a fantastic show called Atlanta that just wrapped up its first season. Or Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang coming off Parks & Rec and making Master of None.
Dan Harmon is a hardcore geek and a middle-aged white guy—not a demographic with the best reputation for inclusion or compassion. But he’s also a showrunner, and proof that smart producers want smart, talented people no matter where they come from. There’s no tone on the internet, but I get the sense from “Kevin’s” questions that Harmon really doesn’t see it as any kind of social justice warrioring or stand-taking. He seems to view inclusion as the natural order, as the way of gathering the best and brightest to ensure success. And it’s paid off—he’s created some of the best TV over the last several years. (Rick and Morty, of which he is a co-creator, is BRILLIANT.) Here’s hoping that as more studios and production companies seek out diverse talent and voices, they all begin to see it not as political correctness, but as just plain good business.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Cubs won the World Series and I have to go party in the street.