Conversations about diversity and inclusion have become a necessity in Hollywood considering the demand and need for authentic representation in TV and film. Earlier this week, UTA hosted their second Diversity Showrunner Panel with Tanya Saracho (Vida), Aida Croal (Y, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones), Marco Ramirez (The Twilight Zone, The Defenders), Marja-Lewis Ryan (the forthcoming The L-Word sequel) and Aaron Thomas (S.W.A.T., The Get Down) — and they did not hold back.
Moderated by Samie Falvey, who will serve as executive producer of Jessica Gao’s forthcoming comedy pilot at ABC, the panelists shared their stories — some of them horrific, some of them not — about working on shows and how it was like to be “the other” in a writers’ room. As the word “diversity” becomes more of a buzz word and less of an action-oriented initiative in Hollywood, their stories seemed like something out of an HR training video on what not to do around people of color, women, and other minorities. All came to a head when they shared their stories of being a “diverse hire” in a writers’ room — which is essentially filling a checkbox and a form of tokenism. This goes back to why the term “diverse” starts to lose meaning and should be interchanged with inclusive, representative and authentic.
Saracho, who recently won a GLAAD Media Award for her groundbreaking intersectional Starz series Vida, points out that it should be used sparingly or not at all. During the panel, she addressed the agents in the room and told them that the term “diverse writer” isn’t a thing.
“You can have a diverse room, a diverse duo, but not a diverse writer,” she pointed out. “I know it appears to be a good shorthand — but it doesn’t mean anything.”
Thomas said that writing programs that promote inclusion are a necessary first step and that those who do get into these programs will be able to create opportunities for others.
The S.W.A.T. showrunner is right. Studios have programs that focus on fostering and championing writers and creators from marginalized communities. These include NBC Universal’s Writers on the Verge, Fox Writers Lab, Sundance Screenwriters Intensive and HBO Access Writing Fellowship. Most recently, the Writers Guild of America West has announced honorees for its TV Writer Access Project (WAP) which is in its 10th year. The program includes 21 diverse writers (notice it’s plural) whose work has been cited by a committee of high-level writers and showrunners in comedy (Half-Hour) and drama (One-Hour) script categories.
The TV WAP program is part of the Guild’s attempt to increase diversity and promote inclusiveness in the entertainment industry. This year’s honorees include eleven writers in the women’s category (including one writing team), four LGBTQ+ writers (including one writing team), two minority writers, two writers with disabilities, and two writers age 55 and older.
The drama honorees include Sabrina Almeida (Die Spinne), Allen Clary, (Orchard Drive), Anya Leta (Points of Origin), Lisa Long (Cimarron County), D.H. Miller, (Freshwater), John-Paul Nickel (Metro), Adam Rodman (Promises To Keep), Deanna Shumaker (Long Lost), Matthew White (Echo) and Jai Tiggett (Black Magic). The comedy honorees include Cindy Appel (Ride or Die), Chelsea Catalanotto (Colonize This), Elise D’Haene (Old Dykes), Anne Gregory (Fucked), Chase Heinrich & Micah Steinberg (Grindrs Keepers), Lena Kouyoumdjian (Party Girls), Brent Piaskoski (Humor Me…It’s Time For Your Next Act), Rachel Palmer & David Shecter (For Worse) and Kate Spurgeon (Rx).