House of Cards creator Beau Willimon and actress-writer Robin Thede have joined the WGA East and the DGA in urging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation to create the Television Writers’ and Directors’ Fees and Salaries Credit. If enacted, the recently passed legislation would encourage the hiring of female and minority writers and directors in New York through up to $5 million in tax credits beginning January 1.
New York Assemblyman Marcos Crespo and state Sens. Marisol Alcántara and Jeff Klein – all Democrats – also are asking the governor to sign the bill, as are Simone Pero, president of New York Women in Film and Television, and Orange Is the New Black actress Dascha Polanco.
A recent report published by the Independent Democratic Conference, “Telling All of New York’s Stories: Expanding Diversity Behind the TV Cameras,” found that both women and minorities were grossly underrepresented among television producers and directors. The report examined the lack of diversity and the effect it has on the way that stories are told on shows.
“The Empire State Film Credit has proven successful in many ways, but we’re still woefully behind when it comes to increasing diversity among the folks who work behind the camera in New York,” Willimon said in a statement. “We’ve asking Governor Cuomo to sign and fund a credit that will encourage better hiring practices. New York State is one of the most diverse places in the country and this credit would bring more writers rooms in New York, which means more New York stories, more productions in New York and more jobs in New York.”
Said WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson: “Enhancing diversity in television writers rooms is essential, not just as a matter of social justice, but also for the industry’s long-term economic health. To continue to prosper and to provide good jobs, the industry must offer shows that capture the attention of increasingly-diverse audiences. What’s more, our members tell us that writers’ rooms that include people from a variety of backgrounds, with different experiences and perspectives, create the most compelling stories and television shows. This tax credit legislation will make the industry better and stronger, and will create opportunities for more New Yorkers. We thank Senators Alcántara and Klein and Assemblyman Crespo for their forward-thinking leadership on this vital issue, and we join them in encouraging the Governor to sign and fund this important initiative.”
DGA Eastern executive director Neil Dudich also weighed in. “For many years,” he said, “the DGA has pushed industry employers to institute open and inclusive hiring practices and to base hiring decisions on talent and talent alone. This first-of-its-kind bill is a meaningful step forward in establishing a level playing field by incentivizing employers to open their hiring practices and consider the full range of New York’s talented TV directors and writers. We thank Senator Alcántara, Assemblymember Crespo and Senator Klein for their leadership on this bill, and we’re hopeful that this pivotal legislation will be signed into law by Governor Cuomo and appropriated in the state budget. New York has taken a leadership position in production, and we look to the state to lead on inclusion.”
Said Klein in a statement: “In this city of 8 million stories, not enough are being told. This important tax credit will help women and minority writers and directors break into the film industry here in New York City, one of the most diverse places in the world.”
“The diversity numbers in television are frankly abysmal,” said Thede, creator and host of BET’s The Rundown With Robin Thede. “In my genre alone, late-night comedy, the number of women writers of color are in the single digits out of nearly 300 writers. This is a business that is about who you know and many qualified, talented women and people of color simply don’t have the access to those circles. It’s not the lack of talent, it’s the lack of opportunity. Governor Cuomo can lead by example at a time when our nation truly needs more diverse voices.”
Pero said that “New York Women in Film & Television, representing more than 2,200 members working in all areas of the entertainment industry, strongly supports the New York State bill that would create a $5 million tax incentive program for TV shows that hire women and people of color in writing and directing positions. If enacted, this bill will go a long way toward making our industry as diverse as it should be. We urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to continue to stand tall with all women and people of color and sign the bill immediately.”
“I initially became interested in this bill because as an Afro-Latina immigrant, I knew what it felt like to grow up feeling invisible in American culture,” Alcántara said. “It was so rare to see a character of color on television, and when you did see one, it felt like they were tokenized, stereotyped, or killed off quickly. And while the industry has made some strides on representation in front of the camera, diversity behind the camera is still sorely lacking. I think the overall quality of television, the different kinds of stories that can be told, the overall landscape of the art form will benefit greatly from having opportunities for diverse people to tell their stories. It was a tough battle, but I stuck with the bill because of the future generations of talented women and people of color who would otherwise remain undiscovered, and the inspiration their stories could bring to countless young people and immigrants like myself.”
“There is no arguing that fiscal policy serves as a tool to create jobs and stimulate economic development,” said Crespo, chair of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. “The television writers and directors tax credit created through this legislation is a job creator that opens doors of opportunity for minorities in an industry very much void of diversity. This bill walks the talk about fairness and inclusion. I urge the Governor to sign this bill into law immediately.”
“I’m not your cookie cutter actress,” Polanco said. “I am full of curves, not sample-sized. So the issue with that is that a lot of roles are not designed or designated for Afro-Latinas. Or women of color and diversity. Or a woman like me. On Tuesday, I am standing up and representing women as a whole in Hollywood and to show our youth that we need writers, directors, etc, to tell our stories. This is why I am joining Senator Marisol Alcántara.”
The WGA East found that over the past five years, of all the individuals hired to be credited writers in television series in the area they represent, which includes New York, only 27% of the individuals were women and only 14% were minority members. A study from the Bunche Center found that for the 2014-15 television season, a majority of television productions had writing staffs where minority writers made up less than 10% of the writing staff.
The DGA found a similar lack of diversity among the individuals hired to direct television episodes in the 2015-16 season. The guild’s latest Episodic Television Director Diversity Report showed that Caucasian males directed just over two-thirds of all television episodes shown that year. Minority males directed just 16% of episodes, Caucasian females directed 14% and minority females directed just 3% of television episodes that year. An Independent Democratic Conference staff examination of the data for series filmed entirely in New York found that New York productions also lacked diversity in the director’s chair. Of the 328 episodes of television filmed for the 22 New York filmed television series examined, Caucasian males directed 70% of episodes, minority males directed only 11% of episodes, Caucasian females directed 16% of episodes, and minority females directed only 4% of episodes.
The Television Writers’ and Directors’ Fees and Salaries Credit seeks to balance behind the scenes talent by covering salary and fees paid for employing eligible writers or directors. For costs to be eligible the individual hired must be a woman or a member of a minority community who is not a profit participant in the television production.
To be an eligible writer, an individual must be responsible for writing or revising scripts, screenplays, teleplays, dialogue, etc., and they have to report to the writers’ room. To ensure that the incentive applies to regular working writers and directors, the bill has detailed caps on eligible earnings on a per-episode and a per-season basis, and writers and directors who are also profit participants are not eligible.
The entire value of the credits is capped at $5 million per tax year, with eligibility for credits determined by date of filing if the demand exceeds this allowed amount. Any production that filed later and thus is denied the credit would have their application carried forward to the following tax year. Eligible productions would be able to start claiming the credit for eligible expenses incurred starting in tax year 2018.