writers and diversity

the writers guild recently released The 2011 Hollywood Writers Report.

The present report shows that women writers remain stuck at 28 percent of television employment, while their share of film employment actually declined a percentage point since the last report to 17 percent.  Although the minority share of television employment increased a percentage point to 10 percent (matching the shares evident in years immediately prior to the 2007 nadir), the group’s share of film employment declined to just 5 percent – the lowest figure in at least ten years.

here’s one chart that affects me:

read the full pdf here, with fancy charts –

http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/who_we_are/hwr11execsum.pdf

you can probably google the ones from 2009 and 2007, but they look pretty much the same as this one from 2011.

  1. ron reid jr. left a comment on June 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    well, is this just a report or was anything putting things in action to change this position of women and other minorities.

    i really should apply to the fox diversity program to try and turn this around. i was pretty successful doing this in Canada.

  2. Evan Shaw left a comment on June 3, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Your post reminded me of another article that I ran across last year: http://trueslant.com/lisacullen/2010/05/10/diversity-jobs-give-minority-tv-writers-a-leg-up/#post_comments

    It was interesting because part of the article talks about how diversity programs help minority writers break in, but then they end up being “stuck” at the same level, because the “diversity writer” is (for lack of a better word) subsidized by the network and does not come out of the show budget:

    “Networks only pay the salary of a diversity writer at the staff writer level, so instead of promoting the writer at the end of a year, as is the usual course, show-runners often keep the writer in place. Or they can the writer, making him or her start over at another show, as, yep, the diversity writer.”

    I hope you continue to keep up this blog after your fellowship, so we can all follow your career. It’s been very interesting so far!

  3. Evan Shaw left a comment on June 3, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Sorry, I’m not sure the link in my comment worked correctly. Here’s the article:

    http://trueslant.com/lisacullen/2010/05/10/diversity-jobs-give-minority-tv-writers-a-leg-up/

  4. kiyong left a comment on June 3, 2011 at 11:15 am

    thanks for the link to the article. yes, unfortunately i’ve heard the same thing about being stuck at that level for various reasons. nbc shows have a diversity slot, but i don’t think all the networks do for their shows. 30 rock did an episode of that where toofer finds out he was hired just to fulfill a quota, and then later liz finds out her entire show was given the green light just to fulfill a quota.

    i guess i’ll deal with that when the time comes. until then, i’m just trying to become the best writer i can be and see where it takes me.

    • ron reid jr. left a comment on June 4, 2011 at 7:38 am

      hey kiyong,

      this is tough for you and for me in the future i am hired.

      nothing is worse then to find out all your hard work didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

      i can’t let this go. if 30 Rock tells it how it is, then that is how it can be and probably could or is at the present time.

      i do not regret fighting for every minority i asked a white direct to cast to canada.

      and other writers and directors to consider minorities even for their shorts or pilots.

      but i am just one voice and you are one voice and all of use like evan are just voices.

      but i would like to think it matters.

      and it does!!

      cheers,

      ron

  5. David L left a comment on June 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Hi kiyong: really enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

    Regarding this report, the thing is, it’s not possible to put into proper perspective unless they include other “facts”. Such as the numbers of each race/gender who are trying to break in. Or how many years the members of each race/gender put in as part of their quest to make it.

    So although 10 percent of those employed in TV are minority, what if that’s disproportionate to the numbers who are actually trying to be employed in that industry?

    And regarding the “low” number of females in the industry, well, most females I know have way more sense than to try to break into the TV industry. Females tend to be more practical, as a general observation in my life. Though perhaps females are batshit crazy in other parts of the country. Which is pretty much what you have to be to try to make it as a TV writer.

    • Sarah left a comment on June 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

      David, of course there are a lot of different factors at play, but I think it’s a bit irresponsible to pursue this line of reasoning. You have to ask yourself how long white men would stick around in Hollywood if barely anybody looked like them, if they were kept from being promoted, and if they suspected that any success they had was the result of affirmative action. And I would respectfully disagree that one must be “batshit crazy” to pursue a career in TV writing. It seems that one must be passionate, ambitious, and (often) encouraged or backed by others. (We should also take into account that many women want to have children, and I don’t care what people say–having a kid generally nullifies a certain set of dreams for women, while leaving that same set of dreams intact for men, provided they’re not single dads. I think that it’s often just easier or more socially sanctioned for men to do impractical things.) It’s more difficult, perhaps, for women and minorities to feel passionate, and to maintain ambition, in the face of discouraging statistics such as these.

      • David L left a comment on June 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

        Hi Sarah: if someone wants to get discouraged by incomplete and potentially misleading statistics, there’s nothing I or anyone else can do. But that’s what ticks me off about these alleged “facts”: they only serve to discourage. Honestly, it does no good to look at these so-called statistics, especially when they can’t serve as the basis for any real conclusion, due to their lack of context.

        Virtually everyone could find some reason to feel that they are being excluded or discriminated against. What about non-Jews? should they look at the Jewish dominated writing staffs and think they are being excluded due to their religion? Or people over the age of 30? Or fat people? It goes on and on.

        It comes down to the work. Do the work. That’s the only thing you really have control over.

        And I never said that being “batshit crazy” was necessarily a bad thing. As David Bowie once said, I’d rather (be) with all the madmen.”

        • kiyong left a comment on June 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

          i think the conclusion of the report is pretty clear – that some groups are underrepresented as working writers. i don’t think the report is saying there is active discrimination. but the reality appears to be that for some groups of people, doing the work alone may not be enough to break in, and even if they do, the pay scale is very different. those are just the things that can be measured with numbers, and doesn’t even account for all the day to day issues they may face.

          for your earlier comment:
          “So although 10 percent of those employed in TV are minority, what if that’s disproportionate to the numbers who are actually trying to be employed in that industry?”

          i can make the same argument for white males employed in the industry and hypothesize that maybe 90% is disproportionately high compared to the number who are trying to be employed in the industry.

          just from a purely business point of a view, the value of diversity is in the best interest of the industry because the tv and movie watching population is not 90% white. to reach a broad, diverse audience, you need stories that communicate to them, and that starts with the writing.

  6. David L left a comment on June 7, 2011 at 4:52 am

    “i can make the same argument for white males employed in the industry and hypothesize that maybe 90% is disproportionately high compared to the number who are trying to be employed in the industry.”

    That’s exactly my point, kiyong … we don’t know, because the figures they present are incomplete and potentially misleading. And the report says nothing about whether “doing the work alone” is “enough to break in”, but it seems that people will draw whatever conclusions they want from this data, depending on what they had concluded before they saw it.

    And I’m a little bothered by the implication in your last paragraph, when you seem to imply that white writers only write for white audiences, black for black, etc. Good writing is good writing, regardless of the race or gender of the writer.

    But that’s the problem with articles such as this report, which reduce individuals to stereotypes — instead of writers, we are black writers, or Asian writers, or white writers, or female writers, etc.

    As for being “underrepresented”, I don’t understand the end game there. If, as the article says, the population is 35 percent minority, would the article writers be happy if minorities accounted for 35 percent of writers employed in Hollywood? would that necessarily be an accurate reflection of the numbers of minorities who are actually interested in that industry, or deserving of being employed in that industry? Should we then insure that in every industry across the U.S., that minority representation is 35 percent? What if it’s more than that? Or less? Is that a “problem”?

    It gets ridiculous. Reducing people to numbers based on their race or gender is disturbing, IMO. And yet, in the name of “diversity”, that’s exactly what happens.

    Finally, regarding the income disparity figures noted in the report, there was an excellent article in a recent Wall Street Journal, (written by a woman, by the way), who shot down these kind of “facts” as being generally misleading and a faulty indicator of inequality. I don’t have the link because I read it in the print version, but the same argument applies — there are many other factors that would be pertinent that are not reported.

  7. kiyong left a comment on June 7, 2011 at 11:47 am

    hey david, thanks for taking the time to express your views. i truly appreciate the open discussion on what is usually a touchy subject, even though we have different points of view.

    i wonder, though, if you would make comments like “figures they present are incomplete and potentially misleading.” and “people will draw whatever conclusions they want from this data, depending on what they had concluded before they saw it.” and “Regarding this report, the thing is, it’s not possible to put into proper perspective unless they include other “facts”.” about something like a report on drunk driving statistics from the NHTSA?

    if there was a statistic that said 33,808 people were killed in traffic accidents. 10,839 of these deaths was a result of alcohol (32% of all traffic deaths), then would you say try to dismiss the data with claims that the information is incomplete? that they don’t present “facts” regarding the condition of the cars that were in the accident, or how experienced the drivers were, and so it wouldn’t be possible to draw any conclusions? i agree that statistics don’t tell you everything, and they can’t account for all of the individual cases and variables, but i think they at least give you an overall view and i think that has value.

    i was definitely not implying white writers only write for white audiences, black for black audiences, etc. but i believe there are some things that a black writer would be able to write better, just like there are some things a female writer would be able to write better, or a writer who was a lawyer, because they had different life experiences to inform their writing. without that, a writer would be at best guessing, or resorting to cliches and stereotypes. that is just my opinion though as a beginning writer.

    i can only speak for myself, but i would be absolutely thrilled if we ever got to a point where minorities accounted for anything close to 35% of working writers! i personally wouldn’t care if 90% of tailors, or fishermen, in the country were latin, or white, or asian. i think it’s important though, because american media is so influential, and it reaches far beyond our borders.

    i think i’ve said enough about this for now. i have a pilot to write. i welcome more comments from everyone though.

  8. Sarah left a comment on June 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Hi, David,

    The point of statistics such as these is not to discourage people—it is to draw the entertainment industry’s (and the public’s) attention to a situation that is serious and affects not only people in the entertainment industry and people trying to break into that industry, but also audiences. It’s not as if, in the absence of these statistics, women and minorities would remain confident, persist, succeed, and be paid fairly. (They would probably still be aware that they were underrepresented by going to the movies or turning on the TV.) As you say, there are many aspects of this situation that are not, and perhaps cannot be, fully understood. Nevertheless, these statistics indicate one of two things—either women and minorities are not as good at writing as white men are, or they do not try as often or as hard. Unless one believes that women and minorities either are intrinsically inferior writers or are inherently less interested in the entertainment industry, there is a problem that should be addressed.

    The “endgame” of calling attention to and reversing underrepresentation is to ensure that everybody has an equal shot. The fact that leveling the playing field is an extremely complex process, one that involves factors for which there can be little or no research, should not stop us from trying to level the playing field. I don’t think anybody is claiming that there should be a specific percentage of any given minority on a writing team. However, when any group is so dramatically underrepresented in a field, you have to ask yourself why.

    Why are there so few women writers? Is it because fewer women try? Why would this be? Is it because they stand to lose more if they fail, or because society expects them to be practical? If women quit sooner, is it because they are afraid—and if so, why? Are there fewer women writers because they have fewer female role models in the entertainment industry, creating a cycle of underrepresentation? Or is it because, as some say, they are not funny? If this is the case, why aren’t they funny, given that few people would actually claim—in an era of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey—that women are incapable of being funny? Is it because they don’t see women being funny, or because they think humor and sex appeal are somehow mutually exclusive?

    I know that I’m being annoying. But I get annoyed with the Ayn Rand-esque mindset that holds that if people are determined enough, they will succeed. Whether people have certain goals—and whether they remain committed to achieving those goals—is determined by hundreds of factors, many of which they are completely unconscious of. In the case of women, for instance, fewer women try, but this may be in large part due to underrepresentation. Good writing is definitely the most important thing when it comes to succeeding as a writer, and it is true that statistics like these don’t show the big picture. But the big picture is definitely affected by underrepresentation.

    I won’t even get into salary discrepancies.

Leave a Comment