In the wake of nationwide protests over racism and police brutality, leaders of the WGA West are urging their own members – television showrunners – “to take their share of responsibility” for the ethnic make-up of writers rooms.
“The Writers Guild doesn’t employ writers, but members, in collaboration with studios, make decisions about who gets hired,” guild leaders told their members today. “We will improve showrunner education. We will make sure we know who is in every room. We pledge, in addition, always to make clear what we want and to bring member and public pressure to bear in order to get it.”
And on the feature film side, they said: “We will immediately create a group that will meet directly with studio heads to make them aware of our push for better and more employment for Black members in screen. We will encourage concrete programs that bring more writers of color into the mix of new hires across platforms.”
The guild’s latest Inclusion Report, published on June 5, found that 35% of TV writing jobs across all platforms went to people of color last season, while just 20% of screenwriters employed in 2019 were people of color. The report noted, however, that if recent hiring trends continue, “women and people of color could achieve parity in TV employment within the next two years.” And that’s due in no small part to efforts made by showrunners, the companies and the guild.
And last Friday, the co-chairs of the guild’s Committee of Black Writers penned a letter to Hollywood “unapologetically demanding systemic change” throughout the industry in the wake of nationwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here’s the guild’s latest message, signed by WGA West president David A. Goodman, vice president Marjorie David and secretary-treasurer Michele Mulroney:
Sometimes we are confronted with a crisis so acute and so devastating that it takes a few beats, as an institution, to decide exactly how to respond. By this, we don’t mean how do we react. That’s automatic: we get out into the street, even in the face of a pandemic, even in the face of police brutality, to stand with our union brothers and sisters. That’s a reaction and a righteous one.
But a response—a real response that can activate the change a reaction initiates—that is something else. All of our members are asking what they as individuals, and we as a union, can do to promote real and lasting change. Here is a start at a reply.
First, a few facts:
The fact is that this crisis is the result of years of systemic racism and a failure to act decisively in its face. Even if it has blown up now, none of it is news to Black writers.
The fact is that Black writers have been traumatized by the legacy of slavery and the continuing racism in America, both explicit and implicit. Traumatized by watching and experiencing daily acts of violence against the Black community. As the nation has been called upon to confront and alter this reality, it is our duty to do the same in writers’ rooms and professional meetings. People who have faced systematic prejudice and discrimination should not be forced to affirm the virtuous intentions of others, or to provide well-meaning white people with solutions.
The fact is that one reason Black writers feel so pressured to give definitive opinions on matters of race in, say, a writers’ room, is because there are so few black writers there in the first place.
The fact is that in spite of a slight uptick, Black writers comprise only 15.9% of all television writers, and these writers are heavily concentrated in entry level positions with little access to the upper echelon of our business. Moreover, Black writers comprise only 7.0% of screenwriters. All writers must listen to Black writers when they name this reality, as the Co-chairs of the Committee of Black Writers have in in last week’s open letter. .
Given such facts, how do we, as a guild, respond?
First, we are offering a list of resources to help all writers do what they can to understand and combat systemic racism, support protestors and support legislation that will control the police and give relief.
Second, the Guild will continue existing efforts and generate new initiatives to make sure Black writers are supported, heard, represented and, most important, that their numbers in the union increase. We will immediately create a group that will meet directly with studio heads to make them aware of our push for better and more employment for Black members in screen. We will encourage concrete programs that bring more writers of color into the mix of new hires across platforms.
In television, showrunners must take their share of responsibility for the make-up of their rooms. The Writers Guild doesn’t employ writers, but members, in collaboration with studios, make decisions about who gets hired. We will improve showrunner education. We will make sure we know who is in every room. We pledge, in addition, always to make clear what we want and to bring member and public pressure to bear in order to get it.
As part of our effort to call attention to the lack of inclusion and equity in our industry, the Guild’s Inclusion and Equity Group released its third Inclusion Report earlier this month. We are currently working on several other new initiatives which we will introduce in the coming days.
Last fact: This is, of course, a guild that has members of many ethnicities and races. But 65% of television writers and 80% of screenwriters are white. All Black writers want is what they deserve: equal access to opportunity, a sincere appreciation of the stories and diverse life experiences they bring to the table, and fair treatment in the workplace.
This is a national emergency, and is the result of the continuous, unspeakable, racist treatment of Black people in every aspect of their lives. We pledge to Black members that we are with them. We have their backs. Black Lives Matter.
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