The NEROPA method: Diversifying the face of film and television and how writers can help make it happen

Audiovisual writers committed to making their work more diverse can call on the NEROPA: Neutral Roles Parity method, a concept launched in 2016 in a bid to make our film and TV screens as diverse as possible.

It’s clear there is a diversity imbalance to be redressed in the audiovisual sphere, not least in terms of gender. A 2015 survey which looked at 120 films released internationally that year reported that only 30.9% of the speaking characters were women; and of those characters, a mere 23.3% were female lead roles.

In 2016 with these stark figures in mind, Belinde Ruth Stieve an expert on Diversity Change in Narrative and Society launched NEROPA, a tool for audiovisual writers. By following its principles, writers can use it as a lever get more women into acting roles by tackling the unconscious bias that can occur during both writing and casting. For example, NEROPA helps writers identify which characters in a script could be gender neutral, and define and cast them as alternating genders instead: female – male – female – male.

Among the NEROPA’s invaluable advice for audiovisual writers wanting to make their work more gender balanced:

  • Use gender neutral names – names like Sam or Alex give the casting director room to cast a more diverse actor.
  • Be non-specific about gender in relation to jobs – for example, not all pilots have to be men!
  • Consider changing the gender of a character if it’s not intrinsic to the plot – it is no secret that Ellen Ripley was originally written as a man before Ridley Scott decided to transition the gender of the character.
  • Review your unconscious bias as you write – is there anything else you can do or change to make your script more gender neutral or inclusive?

The NEROPA tool is not limited to creating more roles for women. Its Finetuning process is designed to help writers create more diverse roles across the board, ensuring more actors are hired regardless of their age, size, ethnic origins, colour, sexuality, (dis-)ability, accent or dialect. Whether they for a lead role or a background character, casting a more diverse actor where possible makes for a more inclusive story. An adjustment in casting could even change the dynamics of a character, creating tension where there might not have been any before or influencing the plotline without making any major alterations.

Stieve’s ultimate goal is to ensure that by adhering to the NEROPA method, audiovisual writers can be a force for a truer example of society on our screens; providing necessary representation for young people and encouraging them to follow their creative dreams.

To find out more about the NEROPA process, visit their website for a video that brilliantly sums it up.