A lack of diversity in the people and viewpoints represented in media and entertainment are tearing at society’s fabric, a number of actors, filmmakers and media and tech executives said at a Fortune dinner in Toronto on Monday, held alongside the Toronto International Film Festival.
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who led the discussion, echoed those sentiments when he said that the problem of intransigence and polarization today, and what he called “tribalism run amok,” are “top of mind” for him. (He stayed away from talk about the ongoing and often tense negotiations with the U.S. government to renew the NAFTA free trade agreement. Trudeau will sit down with Fortune president Alan Murray for an on-the-record interview with him at next month’s Fortune Global Forum in Toronto.)
“We are poorer for it and certainly our public discourse is poorer for it,” Trudeau said at the dinner. So he sought the input of a group of some 25 executives and thinkers from a broad range of organizations—from Silicon Valley financiers and tech companies like StubHub and HootSuite to media behemoth Thomson Reuters and various government agencies—on what the private and public sectors can do to counter the problem.
The dinner took place under the Chatham House Rule, meaning specific individuals can’t be quoted. But a number of participants called for a bigger role for women and minorities, notably Aboriginal people, in filmmaking and decision making. “It can’t just be about words anymore,” one attendee said, adding that she wanted women to have 50% of the place at the table in the industry.
Others said diversity also has to extend to political viewpoints and socio-economic standing. One successful filmmaker saw income inequality as a key source of today’s problems and directly asked Trudeau to provide Canadians with a basic income.
Another participant asked the government for more support in beefing up Canada’s tech infrastructure, with one quipping that “we are in an AI world,” meaning artificial intelligence, but still have an “AOL” setup.
A recurring theme was the role media and entertainment can play in helping people understand themselves and one another in this fraught period of social media brawls, swarming and disinformation. While Trudeau said that not all media needs to have deep meaning, he said the industries represented at the table could help build a better society.
“I do believe that people fundamentally are curious and we are open when we are less anxious and not fearful,” he said. And that can come from media and entertainment reflecting all of society’s diversity.