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Activism, inclusivity and accessibility: Sinéad Burke & Jeremy O. Harris Transcription

Gucci Podcast:
Hello, and welcome back to the Gucci Podcast. Today we bring you an episode featuring two inspiring guests, who have recently joined Gucci’s Chime for Change advisory board, [Sinéad Burke 00:00:22] and [Jeremy O. Harris 00:00:23]. They are interviewed by [Elina Dimitriadi 00:00:27], fashion features editor of Vogue Greece. Listen as together they delve into conversations of accessibility, inclusivity, and their roles in pushing positive change forward through their work.

Elina Dimitriadi:
My name is Elina Dimitriadi, and I am the fashion features editor for Vogue Greece. I feel so honored and thrilled to interview Sinéad Burke and Jeremy O. Harris for our December issue, and facilitate this conversation in the Gucci Podcast, which is recorded remotely. At Vogue Greece, December issue is titled Human After All, and it’s dedicated to the extraordinary people who relish in the joy of giving, and fight to make this world a more inclusive and better place for everyone.

Sinéad Burke is a teacher, a writer, a disability advocate, and a globally recognized champion of inclusive fashion and design, who, through her company, Tilting the Lens, facilitates important conversations and actions pertaining to education, equity, and accessibility. Jeremy O. Harris is an actor and playwright, known for his play Daddy, but most of all, Slave Play, which received the record breaking number of 12 Tony Awards nominations, the most in any Tony Awards nominations in the history of all time. I talk about history to handle later. Sinéad and Jeremy have recently joined the Chime for Change advisory board.

Chime for Change was founded by Gucci in 2013 to convene, unit, and strengthen the voices speaking out for gender equality globally, with a focus on education, health, and justice. Chime for Change aims to inspire participation in a collective community, bringing people together across borders and generations in the fight for equality. So, Sinéad, Jeremy, thank you so much for joining me. It’s great having you here and meeting you.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Thank you for having us.

Sinéad Burke:
Thank you so much. This is a treat.

Elina Dimitriadi:
So, how have you been spending your time during the pandemic now and the lockdowns?

Jeremy O. Harris:
Well, I don’t know about either one of you, but I know this week specifically I have been unable to do anything. I mean, I thank you guys so much for wanting to meet later in the day, because my entire internal clock is set to California now, because I’ve been glued to the television every day for about 20 hours a day, getting four hours of sleep to figure out what’s going to happen in the presidential election. I think that has been probably the most active my brain has been for most of lockdown, because I really took a position of radical self care during these last eight months, because I knew that my own psyche was going to be going through a lot of changes, from the huge shift of being at dinners every night, being at my show every day, and meeting so many amazing people, like Sinéad, along that journey, to being at home alone every day for seven months.

Jeremy O. Harris:
I did a radical self care regime of just allowing myself to go where my pleasure was. So, if my pleasure was in watching anime for six hours and eating two burgers, I did that. If my pleasure was in reading a book about James Baldwin, I did that. But I didn’t force myself to create more than I wanted to. I don’t know how you handled it, Sinéad.

Sinéad Burke:
Wow. That’s so interesting. I love that idea of radical self care. For me, there was a real transformation, I think, in March. I had existed, and worked, and advocated by traveling. I have never spent this much time at home and with my family in an embarrassing amount of time. All of a sudden, coming home, being in one place, being in a space that’s actually more accessible than the rest of the world, because it is home, what was the opportunity within that? The notion of not being able to travel, would you still be able to create intimacy through digital technologies? Would you still be able to encourage people to change their hearts, and minds, and business propositions, with regards to including disabled people?

That time was both something that I really needed and relished in, but also that learned me in ways that, I suppose, feels intimidating to even acknowledge. At the beginning of the pandemic, I suppose realizing that time was something that I had, I began to contemplate, “What are those things that I’ve always wanted to do,” that I either talked myself out of or used busyness as an excuse by which to not even consider it? One of them was writing a children’s book. My background is in teaching. I’m an elementary and primary school teacher. I wrote about feeling, and using my identities of being a disabled woman and being a teacher to realize that for so often, children don’t hear the phrase that you are enough just as you are.

Being a disabled woman, I understood that due to the disability justice model and the social model of disability, that I’m not disabled based on my medical condition, but based on the world, and how we really need to encourage young people to realize that we shouldn’t have to change who we are in order to fit in, and just exist, and feel valid. We should feel like we have the skills and the tools by which we can change the world around us, in order for it to be a safe and equitable place for us to exist as ourselves. So, that was the big project that I took on, never knowing if it would become anything. It’s now in libraries and in bookstores.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Whoa!

Sinéad Burke:
But apart from that, much like Jeremy [crosstalk 00:06:06] Well, we’ll see if it’s any good! Like Jeremy, what I did was enjoyed a routine and gave myself time to do something as simple as go for a walk every day. I attempted to knit hats and grow sunflowers, which ended in a way that I would prefer not to talk about, just knowing that I’m not green fingers or [inaudible 00:06:25] in any way. But the idea that investing in me, whether that was through a children’s book or daily exercise and a routine has been something that I really want to take with me, no matter how the world changes.

Jeremy O. Harris:
I want to just jump into that really quickly. Not to take your job, Elina, but I’m just so obsessed with this …

Elina Dimitriadi:
No, no, no. Please. Go ahead.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Thank you. I’m just so obsessed with this idea of forming new framework for how we discuss things like disability, or even how we look at a moment like this as not a … One of my favorite professors, [Magda Romanska 00:07:05], who is a little person, and she uses an electric wheelchair, she wrote this amazing essay about how, ostensibly, one of the frustrations for many “able bodied people” in these last six months has been the fact that COVID-19 has forced us all into this state of disability. Right? It has given everyone a framework that, for her, would have been the comfortable framework for most of her life as a professor at Harvard, or Yale, or MIT, which are all the schools she’s been teaching at.

Many of the times she articulated to these people, “Hi, it would be preferable, given the things that my body needs at this moment, to do remote teaching for the next three months.” She’d been told by places like Harvard, “Absolutely not. You teach in the class. We can’t do remote teaching.” Now, for the last seven months, all they’ve done is remote teaching, and they’ve seen that it works fine.

Sinéad Burke:
That’s the challenge. Principles of accessibility benefit everybody. Right? Whether that is you happen to become disabled momentarily because you go outside and you fall, or it’s because you’re aging, or because you inherit a condition. What’s been really frustrating, from a disability perspective, is that so many of these principles of accessibility, like working from home, have never been valued, because they haven’t been something that the majority have been calling for, whereas now, we see in the pandemic that there was a need for these practices. Something that seemed impossible was not impossible. There was no desire by which to embrace these things.

I think what’s really important now, as we move into whatever the next phase of this moment is, is that we can’t be rushing towards rebuilding economies or rebuilding societies, and thinking about disabled people through the language of vulnerable, and saying that, “You must exist within your home, because the rest of us need to get back to the real work. The rest of us need to rebuild the world, and we’re going to do it without you.” We did that before. It’s why we describe disabled people as burdens on society and communities, and we institutionalize them. But now, if we’re thinking about social distancing and designing spaces and places for social distancing, that’s a synonym for accessibility.

So, why don’t we design with access and disabled people in co-collaboration, and see what might be possible in the world? Because that provides opportunities for us sustainability, in terms of the longevity of places and spaces, and it’s going to benefit everybody. So, why not? If I was to offer rationale as to why I think it hasn’t come about before, it’s because so many individuals who are in powerful positions and positions of leadership have come to this with an understanding that they have all the answers. But when it comes to disability, there has been so few conversations and socializations around this topic. People just don’t know. How do you, in a powerful position, raise your hand and say, “I’m not sure how to do this?”

Jeremy O. Harris:
Completely.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yeah. Because people are afraid to show that they don’t know. It’s [inaudible 00:10:04], or when you become an adult, you suddenly have to know everything. So, you’re afraid to ask questions or to be curious, to continue in wanting to learn and show that you don’t know everything. So, you have to include more people, and you have to ask then, beginning from how you feel, and how are you, and what can I do for you, or anything.

Sinéad Burke:
Absolutely. I think it’s that duality of feeling that you can step forward, and be curious, and ask those questions, but also realizing that we’re living in a moment in which there has never been as much information within the ether that we can gain access to and educate ourselves. So, it’s about being curious, and also having the initiative and agency in order to up-skill ourselves within those conversations. But, Jeremy, not to cut across you, Elina, I’m really interested in asking you a question.

Jeremy O. Harris:
I just wanted to jump on top of that and say with that curiosity, looking at this moment not as a moment of stasis, but as a moment of a radical shift of consciousness, and a moment where we can take this pause to actually reimagine frameworks for inclusion. Right? Not frameworks that happen to have inclusion as a part of them, but frameworks where inclusion is embedded into the seams of the thing. I think that thinking about the fact that no major house has been able to have a show this year is a great moment for them to start thinking about what not having a show can give the world? How that could be a more inclusive moment for not only the environment potentially, but also who sits from row? How they sit in the front row? Who’s invited to be a part of this process of seeing the clothes on them? Who we can send clothes to, to be on them? These things, I think, are really exciting.

Sinéad Burke:
How we’re thinking about accessibility and technology, how we’re thinking about alt text, or captions, or descriptions. I think it’s always really interesting that fashion exists on a runway, which is a synonym for a ramp. Yet so rarely do we see wheelchair users or anybody who needs to access, or could access, a space like that through the vehicle of a ramp. But, Jeremy, I wanted to ask, in a pandemic, and, I think, in global moments of change, so often we look to politicians, or we look to economists or financiers for the solutions.

But what we have seen time and time again is that it is the artists, it is the writers, who not only provide escapism and entertainment, but give us the vocabulary that we need to either feel safe or to give us the language that we require in order to call it chaos, or friction, or whatever is required in order to build this new framework. Is there a sense of pressure that you feel within that? Or giving yourself that space to look after you, did that take time to practice? Or did it always fit comfortably?

Jeremy O. Harris:
I think it takes time to practice, and a release from a lot of that pressure. I mean, I think that … Thank you for asking that. I think there’s constantly this call that people have, that people feel that they need to call upon artists in these moments to do something. They make reference to things like King Lear. They’re like, “Shakespeare wrote King Lear after the plague!” I’m like, “Yeah. He did. But King Lear wasn’t about the plague. King Lear is about soapy intrigue with a wealthy family, where the dad is going a little crazy and doesn’t want to give up his wealth to his children.” Right? So, it’s ostensibly a succession but sexier, because there’s a pool.

Sinéad Burke:
Jeremy’s strong is shaking.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Exactly. I wonder sometimes if the pressure that a lot of young artists probably feel to write the great play about Donald Trump, or write the great play about the COVID-19 disaster, might be alleviated if we reminded them that the great play after the plague, for Shakespeare, was a play that was a soapy, Sunday night, 9:00 PM drama, and not a play about people dying of pestilence in the streets, and it’s okay. The plays that were about people dying of pestilence in the streets didn’t really last. No one really is that interested in those plays. I think it’s okay, especially as someone who’s from a systemically oppressed class of people. Right?

As both a queer person and a Black person in America, I feel like that’s something else I keep reminding myself. I don’t have to write in and around that oppression every time I step up to write, in order to feel like I’m doing something worthy. I can write about my weird obsession with sports anime, and how that turned me into basically a tub of lard on my couch for six months, and how that was an amazing thing to feel like a tub of lard and something that could have things done to it, and not something that had to be an active participant in society every moment of every day.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yeah. Amazing. Yeah. I was thinking that both of you are using social media as a platform, and it has become our main platform during the pandemic. Do you think that this could be a way to be a more democratic way of having all the voices heard, and your presence heard, and something that relates to we need platforms, not pedestals? Not just have, like you, Sinéad, have said that we need platforms, not pedestals. Right?

Sinéad Burke:
Yes. I love when my words come back to haunt me. But yes. I do remember saying that. [crosstalk 00:15:50] No, thank you.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Everyone is taking a disabled person or a Black person and they make something, a campaign or something, and they put them on a pedestal, and they [inaudible 00:16:02]. But they’re not given actual platforms.

Sinéad Burke:
Yeah. If I can start here, and Jeremy, you can come in.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Please.

Sinéad Burke:
I don’t doubt you have thoughts on this. I think the notion of platforms, not pedestals is really important. I think what we were talking about earlier is this notion of key leaders not necessarily knowing what the next steps are. I think the first point of which we create solutions within that is by collaboration, and co-creation, and co-design. So, this notion that you don’t design for or create for, but that everything is in equal partnership. That’s much easier to say than actually to manifest in a boardroom in a fashion company or within a marketing campaign, but I think it’s really important.

There’s a couple of things within your question there. But I think there’s two things. People would ask me, particularly in schools, “Is there any value in tokenism?” Tokenism, in a sense, is not something which we each want to invest in. But if tokenism is about creating a criteria of those who are reflective of the world in and of itself, by which gives us a starting point to manifest that reflection within campaigns or organizations, then great. But I suppose my question is it’s wonderful having these diverse voices, and aesthetics, and backgrounds within the visibility of the world. But what comes next?

Do we just profit from the aesthetics of these individuals? Or do we provide space that is equal in partnership? I think there are examples of that coming to the fore, and I mean, Jeremy has done incredible work, whether it is with Circle Jerk, or with his work in terms of the slush fund that he’s doing to provide finance for people to explore, and fail, and test whatever skills and creativity that they might have. This idea that also when there is a minority voice, if they are given an opportunity, it is often dictated that what must be achieved within that opportunity must be excellent. That they are only allowed to achieve excellent, or they do not get to exist.

I think it’s finding the space and the nuance by which what we’re looking for is opportunity, not excellence, and a divestment of resources by which people can have a fair and equitable opportunity. Because even providing that opportunity, if it’s not accessible, then who does that exist for or within? I think you raised a point about social media. For me, social media is important. But as we’ve seen in the US election recently, it’s really important that those who have power within those institutions also recognize how those platforms can be exploited and manipulated, and how they can also be, yes, a vehicle for education. But they can often make people feel lonelier than connected at all.

For me, as somebody who is a visibly disabled woman, the idea that I could create both a network of people who I can rely on, confide in, learn from, and educate myself on is something that has been invaluable to me personally and professionally. But how do we ensure that we’re nurturing people in the anonymity that social media provides, I think, is a challenge that we’re only going to have to keep solving.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Everything that Sinéad just said, I completely 1,000% agree with. Also, thank you for shouting out Circle Jerk.

Sinéad Burke:
I never thought we’d get that on a Gucci podcast. [crosstalk 00:19:15]

Elina Dimitriadi:
I was watching the other day on Twitter. It was amazing.

Jeremy O. Harris:
I mean, I’m so proud of Michael Breslin, and Patrick Foley, and [Cat Rodríguez 00:19:24], and [Ariel Sibert 00:19:24] and [Rory Pelsue 00:19:26], the whole team. They are phenomenal. You spoke to something that I feel very passionate about, and something that I try to model, and I know that you model, as well, which is that … Because I also recognize the fact that being a part of the world of fashion, or the world of television, or the world of film means that you are entering in willfully into a space of capitalism. Right? Capitalism very rarely takes care of those that are a part of it. Capitalism is made to make even our identities profitable. Right?

I think that with that recognition, that’s what happens, I try to model for businesses the ways in which we can work as ethically as possible inside of these institutions to spread the profits that are going to be gained from my identity, from Sinéad’s identity, to other people who might not be in positions to benefit from these things. Whether that’s because of their identity or any other social position that they’re a part of. Right? So, I think that, for me, looking at what this moment means for both my career, and what social media means to all of that, I think all I can use social media for is to model the reality that I want to see in the world, which is a reality where in people are taking care of other people. Right? In a world that so often rewards not taking care of others, and not looking at your fellow man or the other people in your community.

I think that’s why I’m a theater artist, because I love community, and I like building community and taking care of a community. So, I mean, I really do love things like TikTok. Obviously, my coronavirus mix tapes have made that very clear. Because it started out being a collection of a lot of different videos I watched, and now it’s just all TikToks. But I think what I love the most about TikTok is that your for-you page becomes a community. Right? It becomes a reflection of what you love to see, for both good and for ill. I know that the good of it is that I get to see what young, queer, disabled activists are thinking about, what young, queer, Black activists are thinking about, what young, queer, Muslim activists are thinking about.

Literally, that is what my for-you page is. Because those are ostensibly the people whose world views I attract, or that I’m attracted to. Being able to surround myself inside of their humor, their anger, their passions, what they find beautiful, what they find ugly, has been really enriching in a time of extreme loneliness and solitude.

Sinéad Burke:
What’s also great about these platforms, Jeremy, and you articulated it just there, is that so many of these young people, in particular, get to create content narratives, writing, and concepts of themselves that sometimes move beyond their identities, in a sense that don’t just give them opportunities to articulate what it’s like to be a queer, disabled person in the United States or in Europe, at the moment, but that they can write about their interests that are either tied and shaped to those identities, but it’s not the definition of what their creativity or artistic input has to be about.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Completely. I mean, and the fact that so much of the humor I’m seeing from these young people is revealing how deliciously and delightfully abject they are, in a positive way. Their humor is this abject, un-oppressed humor. It feels like the most free humor ever. I think it does create new models and frameworks for how we see these young people from oppressed identity groups, in a way that I find [crosstalk 00:23:28]

Sinéad Burke:
Though I do love you and I are sitting on a podcast talking about the young people.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Exactly.

Sinéad Burke:
Never have I felt older in my entire life, Jeremy. So, thanks for that. I appreciate it. 30 has [inaudible 00:23:37], where the young, and I’m now [crosstalk 00:23:40]

Jeremy O. Harris:
You just wrote a children’s novel. At the end of the day, that’s the youth I’m thinking about, the 11-year-olds.

Sinéad Burke:
Yeah.

Jeremy O. Harris:
We’re always going to be too old for them.

Sinéad Burke:
Those who aren’t yet conditioned by the world’s views, who may have an opportunity by engaging with these communities, or by accessing children’s books, or information, or theater, or creativity as an entity in and of itself, gives them permission to, as idyllic as it might sound, but to dream what might be possible for them.

Elina Dimitriadi:
It’s because if they have representation, they can see someone that is like them outside. I suppose that it was difficult for you. I know, Sinéad, you had your father that you could look up to and see that. He told you that you can do anything. But other than that, it was impossible to see someone like you achieve things, and becoming a teacher or something. You, Jeremy, as well, I suppose that for a Black, queer person, it was difficult to see someone like you being a Tony Award nominated artist.

Sinéad Burke:
12 Tonys! 12 Tonys!

Jeremy O. Harris:
I mean, to be fair, and I don’t know if, Sinéad, you had this, as well, but, I mean, for me, conversations about identity are so complex. I was having this amazing conversation with [Dev Hynes 00:25:00] about this.

Elina Dimitriadi:
I love his music. Yeah.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Dev is amazing.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yeah.

Jeremy O. Harris:
But how growing up as someone who was both obsessed with The Archive and obsessed with this one really rarefied/white, historical thing, some of my idols that I saw myself the most in were people like [Edward Olvy 00:25:21]. Right? Or people like George Bernard Shaw, which, again, I know that’s weird, but George Bernard Shaw was always one of my favorites.

Sinéad Burke:
We need to bring you to Dublin, Jeremy.

Jeremy O. Harris:
But the thing about those people was that they had a sensibility that was so similar to my own. I think that’s something we all see in fashion. Right? I might not ever look like Naomi Campbell, but watching her walk in a certain way reminds me of something I aspire to, or feels like something that’s just beyond me. That’s something really beautiful that [Adrienne Kennedy 00:25:54] said to me in an email about Audrey Hepburn. She was like, “I never thought that I was going to be Audrey Hepburn, but I aspired to her, because she was in some beyond me.”

I did have models for people who looked like me inside of the theater world, because I knew The Archive. Right? So, I knew George C. Wolfe had written The Colored Museum, and then went on to direct Angels in America, which had the most Tony nominations before my play did. I’m doing a little thumbs up right now. He ran the public theater and was this amazing champion of other artists, like Robert O’Hara, who ended up directing Slave Play and was a Black, queer playwright. Right? But I think that what felt more difficult was finding amongst the list of all of these playwrights, more people who had my sensibility, which is, I think, why I pointed towards these kids with abject humor.

Because I think that I felt so alone in looking at the world from a left-leaning lens, or a lens that looked underneath, and around, and in between the cushions of an idea in order to find something funny about it. I loved the darkness. I think that so often Black people, women, queer people, are told, “Because representation matters so much, we shouldn’t project the dark in the world. We should be showing light and showing all these other things,” where, for me, the lightest thing is sometimes the darkest. I think that finding people who had that model and that sensibility of dark, abject humor, wit, and rigor made finding representation even more difficult.

I think that once I did find those people, I often found that they didn’t necessarily look like me, but they did feel like me, which was so, so necessary. I don’t know if you’ve felt that way, Sinéad, as well.

Sinéad Burke:
I think that’s the beauty of identity, in a sense, that my experiences as a disabled, white, rural, working class woman is not comparative to yours, Jeremy, but there are parts of our experiences shaped by those lenses that we view the world through, that allow us to connect more intimately, more immediately, that we see parts of ourselves in one another, despite the trauma or the challenges that might exist in the world that separate us. But there is an immediate connectivity between those experiences. I was very lucky that in my family unit, my father was a little person.

80% of little people are born to two average height parents. So, it became very obvious, once my parents founded Little People of Ireland, that the majority of my friends who had dwarfism were the only one in their family. I think I was much older before I was able to articulate the strength of character, that having somebody in my home who looked like me gave me permission to do and be. But it’s probably also the reason as to why I’m interested in fashion, because I remember turning to my dad, being 11 or 12, and asking him about shoes, asking him about where I would get clothes that would fit me professionally.

My dad, not having information about that, because it wasn’t something he was concerned with as a young person with dwarfism growing up, or as a parent, because he saw fashion through a lens of functionality. Now he doesn’t, of course. But back then, he absolutely did. But, for me, I’m always very conscious that I have, through my advocacy and through my work, been able to be the exception. I have been the first little person who’s on the cover of Vogue. I have been the first little person who gets to attend the Met Gala. Whilst I’m very grateful for perhaps the visibility and the representation that gives to a 12-year-old who is sitting at home and sees somebody who looks like them for the first time, that has power.

It’s not about me, but it’s my physicality might give meaning to somebody else. But I’m also very much aware now that it’s really important and integral to this notion of progress, that I can’t just be the exception. What can I use and do to ensure that whatever experiences, and knowledge, and education, and skills that I have gained by being the exception, how can I use that to transform company cultures, to transform how organizations work, to ensure that becomes their will? For example, what can we do to encourage disabled people to be employed within these organizations? It’s not enough for companies to say, “We accept,” or, “We welcome diversity.”

How have you administered the invitation? Is it accessible? Have you developed relationships with those community groups and disabled people organizations, to ensure that they don’t think that they’re being exploited for their visibility in order to be part of this wider organization? How are you talking to 11-year-olds? How are you developing scholarships to think through education opportunities for those who just don’t think that this organization and this industry as a whole is something that is welcoming to them? How do you utilize that to ensure that they’re not the first person who’s on the cover of Vogue? You might be the first, but in the words of Kamala Harris …

Elina Dimitriadi:
You won’t be the last.

Sinéad Burke:
You won’t be the last.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yes. Like Kamala Harris said, she’s the first person, but her mother told her that, “Make sure that you won’t be the last.” So, I think that you’re doing a great job at …

Sinéad Burke:
We shall see.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Taking care of that.

Sinéad Burke:
Change still needs to be measurable and tangible, but I think that’s the thing about change. What we’re trying to do culturally, whether it is the arts, whether it’s fashion, whether it’s design or technology, we are trying to transform systems that have existed in this way since time immemorial. Radical change takes longer than I would like. But any change that happens overnight is usually done for a press release. It’s not done so that this can be embedded in a new way of working. I think we need to both be patient with ourselves and be frictious against the organization or the cultural shift, in order for it to happen as soon as possible. Because this is about people.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeremy O. Harris:
Yes.

Sinéad Burke:
This is about creating worlds where people feel safe and included, and feel like it is an equitable experience for them just to be themselves. Whether that’s at work, whether that’s at home, whether that’s at leisure. I think, Jeremy, as you said at the very beginning of this, we should be utilizing this moment to rethink our process and our practice. Jeremy, we’ve had discussions about this, about accessibility in the arts. So many theaters, for example, are historic buildings, which means that legislatively, they cannot be made accessible.

But laws can change. How can we come up with creative and innovative solutions to creating access to places like theaters? Because they are closed now. If we wait until there is more resources or more interest, then theaters will be back open, and the only interest will be in filling seats. So, now is the time in which we can include people broadly. Totally.

Jeremy O. Harris:
I think often, I mean, the measure of this is the thing you were saying, about hiring more people, not just putting us on the front row, or on the magazine cover, or in the magazine. Every time I am in the theater of any play, I’m looking around to see how many people look like me. That’s not just how many Black people there are, but how many young people there are, how many visibly queer, femme people there are, how many people who don’t look like they come to the theater often are in the audience? Right?

Sinéad Burke:
Many people are code switching in the room.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Exactly. Then I also look, when I talk to the people who are working on these plays, or go into a theater that wants to do one of my plays, or a film company that wants to do one of my plays, and I look around the offices and see how many people there are. That is generally the best way. Seeing how few people look like you in an office is the best way to recognize why so few of you are in the audience. You often see that inclusive spaces have more inclusive audiences. What I told everyone while we were working on Slave Play was that inclusivity isn’t just good for aesthetics and good for morale. It’s actually good for business, because that’s more people who feel invited into your thing.

Why would you want to not have as many people invited as possible? Why would you not want to be a good enough host to recognize the needs of everyone you’re inviting to your space? So, if you know that you don’t know what the needs of little people are, hire one, so that you can have someone there to help you set the table properly.

Elina Dimitriadi:
You’re working together now for Chime for Change. So, how do you see your role within that, as members of the advisory board now? Have you had any thoughts, or plans, or discussions together on what you can do?

Jeremy O. Harris:
Well, not yet. I mean, I think our first conversation intersected with so many of the things we’re talking about here and so many of the things that we have excitement about talking about in these larger meetings of Chime for Change, which are about what platforms can Gucci vis-à-vis Chime for Change give to people who have been historically left out of the conversation of who fashion is for and how fashion is for? Because knowing [Alessandro 00:35:03], knowing so many of the other people that work there, I know that there’s an actual excitement and enthusiasm to include as many different people as possible.

They don’t necessarily have all the tools or the knowledge of how to reach out to those people, those communities, and bring them into the world of the Gucci family. That’s, I think, one thing that’s really exciting, is vis-à-vis Chime for Change. But also just all of the actual necessary charity work they do for multiple places around the world, vis-à-vis gender and sexuality, and bridging these huge gaps of knowledge that puts certain people at risk, I think are so exciting. Just watching what my friend, [Adam Eli 00:35:55], did with their guide to gender this year, I thought was so informative and so amazing for a lot of different people who are, I think, coming to understandings about gender identity, at this moment, that heretofore, they had no consciousness of.

Sinéad Burke:
Yeah. I think it’s really optimistic, if that makes sense. I think one of the wonderful things about Gucci, even as a word, is that it is something that is understood across geographical and linguistic boundaries. There are few people in the world who don’t know what Gucci is. By investing in work in relation to gender equality, or accessibility, or race, there is a real opportunity in progressing at such an accelerated rate, because there’s already a sense that this has value, and this has importance, if an entity like Gucci is investing in this work.

I think, also, that comes with a challenge, or at least it could be a potential challenge, because there is so much responsibility on those of us who get to be in positions, like Jeremy and I, at something like Chime for Change, to be able to continue to push forward for those opportunities, and for us, as individuals, to then create space for others to be able to infiltrate those massive voices who may not get to be at the table, but still, we need that expertise to be represented. I think the work that they’ve done with regards to gender equality globally is so important to also providing this record of how it differs across the world.

Because I think we have an understanding sometimes that identity is harmonious across different jurisdictions, and that the struggle or the opportunity that one experiences in one part of the world mirrors the rest. Really, that just couldn’t be further from the truth. I think, going back to my days of being in the classroom, one of the principles that I’m going to be investing in at these meetings is often when you ask children questions, children will perform an answer that they think you want to hear. I think so often what can happen in spaces like this, is that you end up mimicking an answer that you think needs to be heard. I think what’s really important for those of us who get to be in positions like that for Chime for Change, is that we are reflective, and honest, and transparent, but also solution-focused.

Being able to identify the challenges that exist in the world is one thing, but providing opportunities and solutions that can be manifested, if it’s employment programs, or scholarships, or slush funds, whatever it might be, that we have the obligation to be constructive in our approach to this work. So, I think the more of it, the better. The more of us who can be part of advisory councils like this, to bring in diverse, reflective, challenging perspectives is really what’s needed.

Jeremy O. Harris:
I think that you spoke to something that I’m really excited about in this group, I think, as well, is that being one of, I think, only four cis men on this panel, I think, or maybe three, I can’t remember, is really, really exciting. Because I think what the advisory board also offers is a chance to truly and radically listen to a lot of disparate people from all walks. There’s very few times in my life I will ever sit with both an activist and a CEO at the same table. Right? And a pop star. Right? Those are the type of conversations that are going to be swirling around this ford, are really, really exciting. This cross-generational, cross-socioeconomic, cross-ideological discourse, it’s really, really exhilarating. I think that as someone who has made it my job to listen and report, in a way, to listen and to channel, I’m really excited to have a long period of listening inside of my time at Chime for Change.

Sinéad Burke:
Yeah. To be an individual that can challenge those with power, but to also be challenged by those who have historically had less power, which is probably even more important.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Just one more question about your relationship with fashion, I read somewhere that, Jeremy, you said that theater and fashion should be married, that they have a really close relationship.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Yes.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Why do you say that? How do you feel? How has your relationship with fashion been?

Jeremy O. Harris:
Well, I think that one of the things … I think that you said something very similar to this in your interview with [Edward Enninful 00:40:22], Sinéad. Clothing is one of the first stories that people read on us. Right? I love this idea of clothing being this story that we wear on our skin. For me, as someone who thinks a lot about the story that my Brown, Black skin tells the world, how it complicates that story. Right? Someone’s complicated understanding of the Black body has always been shaped by the clothes that they were wearing. That’s why in the Black community, clothing has always been of high import.

Presentation has been. So, both to make a story that feels safer for the class that oppresses us, and, also, sometimes to be a warning sign to the class that oppresses us. Don’t come near me. Which I find to be really exciting, and exhilarating, and one of the major powers of clothing that we don’t talk about a lot. I think that knowing that storytelling is so much of a necessity, and how clothes get on different bodies, I think that it feels like a misstep that more fashion and theater makers haven’t combined their talents to make the story of a fashion show stronger, to make the story of the clothes inside of a play more vibrant, more expressive, to tell the story a little bit deeper. Right?

These collaborations were collaborations that used to happen a lot, especially in the early 20th Century. I think that something shifted with the advent of cinema, and also the ability to make more money by putting a Givenchy dress on Audrey Hepburn than to put a Givenchy dress on Elizabeth [Marvel 00:42:17] in a play in New York. I think that now that we’re moving into a space where everything’s more accessible, and democratized, and an image from a play can be as viral as an image from a movie, which we saw with Slave Play, I think there’s a real opportunity to reengage this mixing of worlds, for the better. Right?

I think, again, something else that’s very real is that theater is about small communities. At this moment, theater has to happen within the community where it’s set. Fashion is global. If they could use some of that global capital and global reach to help more communities vis-à-vis the arts, I think it’s beneficial to everyone involved. But that’s just my thought on it.

Sinéad Burke:
I think that’s great. I think you’re absolutely right. I look at theater as one of the last forms of mindfulness that exists.

Jeremy O. Harris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sinéad Burke:
Because it is this intimate relationship between you and the cast, or you and the actor. There is this escapism from everybody else in the audience. You feel like they are speaking to an audience of one, much like a podcast like this. I think that’s so important. The relationship between fashion and costuming, I look at fashion as a tool that gives me agency over my aesthetic. It’s something that I have long wanted and desired, because people’s assumptions over who I was and what I could and couldn’t do was based on what it was that I looked like, which came from representation in film, which often didn’t have agency considered of those who cast in those roles.

For me, fashion gives me a power to create a new narrative, one that I have written. Whether that is me sitting across from you in a green, roll neck Gucci jumper, because I live in Ireland, and it’s Winter and it’s cold, or whether that is a cape in a supermarket because I’ve just decided I’m going to exhibit myself to the world today. That is so important. I think, also, it’s acknowledging that fashion and clothes touch our skin. We have this emotive connection to the industry in a way that isn’t facetious, that is so part of our humanity and integral to who we are. Also, the notion that working from home changes this in the sense that you can walk around nude, if you like.

In most countries, there is a legal expectation that you will wear clothes. It is one of the few industries that we have this formal connection to, be it fashion, be it style. I think with that, with an industry having stakeholders, who is quite literally everybody in the world, what is the responsibility then for those companies, and that industry as a whole, to recognize the sustainability, the equity, and, I suppose, just the broader purpose that is required in order to be fully representative and engaging with these communities?

I think there’s so much that we can learn, going back to this notion of collaboration, that I think if we do design a fashion system that has a removal of zips and only has magnets and Velcro, because that’s what’s most accessible to disabled people, that’s going to benefit absolutely everybody. It’s look at this through a lens of creativity, innovation, equity, but also profitability. There is no rationale for continuing to exist within a system that has been in place forever.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yeah. So, you see hope? What is it that gives you hope to keep going on and keep giving back to the community, and wanting to make this world a better place?

Sinéad Burke:
That sounds almost like a song. I think, as Jeremy said, we are both of a generation that is not young, sadly, though we try and do skincare routines, that try to allow us to [inaudible 00:46:10]. But no. You look at the generations who are behind us, and you look at their absolute confidence that change is possible. They, in so many ways, don’t feel not even hindered by the vices that exist. There’s an acknowledgement of the systemic challenges and oppressions which continue to exist.

They are absolute in their desire to either fight for those changes, whether it is queuing for 11 hours in the US to vote, whether it is writing to those of power in order to create change. Whether it’s looking at a film, like The Witches, and challenging the disability representation in a film like that, how does that come to be in an era of this era? But I think, also, it is looking at the changes that have been made. Whether that is thinking about Kerby Jean-Raymond creating your friends in New York with Kering, I think it’s the individuals who are leveraging the power of the entities to create tangible results that [inaudible 00:47:03] change. But there’s so much more to be done.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yes. Do you …

Jeremy O. Harris:
I’m snapping now. I totally agree.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Yes. I guess that you will keep fighting. I don’t know. I’m so hopeful that you two exist out there, and that you keep fighting, and you keep thinking about new ways that we can make this happen. I mean, Sinéad, you went to Davos, and I think that you have started to really make people hear you. I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes.

Sinéad Burke:
Thank you. Me too.

Jeremy O. Harris:
This has been amazing.

Sinéad Burke:
This has been so great. Elina, thank you so much. To the team at Gucci, thank you.

Elina Dimitriadi:
Thank you for everything. So, really nice talking to you.

Gucci Podcast:
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Gucci Podcast, featuring Sinéad Burke and Jeremy O. Harris. Find out more about Chime for Change and their work in the episode notes.

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