Gains in diversity among Hollywood writers at stake in strike

By Danielle Broadway

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As the Writers Guild of America strikes to bring about better pay and work security in a streaming TV world, a generation of diverse writers like Caroline Renard fear for the future of their careers.

While there have been improvements in diversity within writers’ rooms in recent years, writers of color, women of color, disabled writers and LGBTQ+ writers in Hollywood still lag in opportunities.

“At the rate we’re going in, writers of color, who make up a good chunk of lower-level writers and mid-level writers won’t be able to stay in the industry,” said Renard, a writer on “Secrets of Sulphur Springs” and a liaison between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and members.

Between 2010 and 2020, the share of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in screen employment rose from 5.2% to 22.6% while they account for 42.2% of the U.S. population.

The share for white people fell from 94.8% to 77.4% in the same period although they represent 57.8% of the population, according to the WGA’s 2022 Inclusion and Equity Report.

In 2021, 50% of new members in the WGA identified as BIPOC and 22% as LGBTQ+.

While the Guild’s demands to studios do not specifically address the issue of diversity, WGA West board member and 2023 negotiating committee member Angelina Burnett told Reuters the negotiations the board put forward are intended to protect the economic stability of the industry for the new generation of WGA writers.

“Preventing this business from sliding into gig work for all those people coming in, that’s how we keep them in, that’s how we protect their careers,” said Burnett, who was a writer and producer for “The Americans”.

Ashlea Archer, who hopes to soon join the WGA, said including overlooked voices in the WGA is “an ongoing conversation,” but she felt like her voice, as both a future WGA member and woman of color, was heard when negotiations were drafted.

“I think we’re headed in the direction of being concerned for all groups and there’s still a lot of work to do,” she said. “But of all the directions we could go, I still think we’re getting closer than further away.”

WGA’s report says white men continue to make up most of the high-level TV jobs, including 58% of showrunners and 64% of executive producers in 2020.

‘LEFT OUT’

“Harlem” writer, Brandon K. Hines, who is LGBTQ+ and supports the WGA strike, believes that the guild’s current demands for equity and opportunity do not go far enough for TV writers that have the least career mobility.

“If you (WGA) really want diversity, if you really want to make change, you need to put the language in, you can’t just be like, ‘Oh, this is good for everybody! It’s good for us, it’s good for you.’ That’s never the case,” he said.

Demands for more compensation and larger writers’ rooms may be newer concerns for what Hines refers to as the “upper echelon of writers,” but this has been an unresolved struggle for underrepresented writers for years.

“When it comes to the issues of writers of color, there’s a constant feeling of being left out of the negotiation,” Hines said.

With that in mind, for Burnett, the strike is about making sure the progress that has been made for writers of color isn’t lost and pushing further to create more opportunities for the future.

“I understand. I’ve talked to a lot of members of color and wish there was something specific for them, but the reality is, these economic issues, creating a ladder of success in the business is, in my opinion, more for them than the old white guys who are solid, who are taken care of,” she said.

Many WGA members also believe the specific strike demands, including adding larger writers’ rooms, offer a better chance for writers on the sidelines to join in.

“That would be absolutely huge for all kinds of underrepresented writers, and disabled writers as well, because we are wildly underrepresented,” said Jamey Perry, vice chair of the WGA’s Disabled Writers Committee and “Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector” writer.

Disabled people hold about 1% of writing roles for TV series, pilots and screenplays, while 27% of American adults report having a disability.

(Reporting by Danielle Broadway; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sonali Paul)

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