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Diversity in the writing world is a good-news, bad-news story, a new WGA West report finds, but the good news appears to be incremental at best. The guild’s 2014 Hollywood Writers Report shows modest gains for minority and women writers in television, but a continuing decline in diversity for movie screenwriters.
The 2014 Hollywood Writers Report, the ninth in a series of semiannual reports the guild has commissioned, analyzes employment patterns for writers working on broadcast and cable TV shows during the 2011-12 season and those working on theatrical features during that same period, highlighting three specific groups who have traditionally been underemployed in the entertainment industry: female, minority and older writers.
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“The good news is that, since the last report published in 2011, there appears to have been small gains for women and minorities in television employment and earnings — though both groups still have quite a way to go to reach parity with their white male counterparts,” said report author Darnell M. Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and professor of sociology. “The story for film, unfortunately, is not so good. Since the last report, there has been no progress for either group. Indeed, relative to white males, women and minorities have lost ground in the sector.”
Hunt’s research shows that while minority and women writers have made incremental gains in employment over the past decade-plus period, current film and TV employment levels remain widely disproportionate to the actual minority demographics of the U.S. population, and diverse writers remain substantially underrepresented on TV writing staffs and in feature films.
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Key findings in the 2014 Hollywood Writers Report include:
Female Writers’ TV Employment Remains Static: Women remained underrepresented by a factor of nearly 2 to 1 among television writers in 2012, claiming just 27 percent of sector employment.
Female TV Writers Close Income Gap Incrementally: Female television writers earned about 92 cents for every dollar earned by white males in 2012, up slightly from 91 cents in 2009.
Female Screenwriters Lose Ground in Film: In the film sector, female writers fell further behind white males in 2012, accounting for just 15 percent of sector employment (down from 17 percent in 2009). Women remained underrepresented by a factor of more than 3 to 1 among screenwriters.
Gender Earnings Gap in Film Widens Again: The gender earnings gap in film has traditionally been greater than the gap in television, the research found. Female film writers earned just 77 cents for every dollar earned by white male film writers in 2012, down from 82 cents in 2009.
Minority TV Writers Increase Numbers and Close Earnings Gap: Minority television writers posted an increase in employment share (from 10 percent in 2009 to 11 percent in 2012), while also closing the earnings gap a bit with white male television writers. Nonetheless, minority writers remain underrepresented by a factor of about 3 to 1 among television writers. There is still a large difference between the percentage of minority writers employed in television and film and the U.S. population, as minorities accounted for nearly 37 percent of the U.S. population in 2010. Data also show that minorities watch a disproportionate share of television and theatrical films, while increases in their consumer spending outpaced the rest of the nation.
Minority Screenwriters’ Share of Film Employment Remains Low and Earnings Gap Widens: The previous report revealed that – after a decade of being stuck at 6 percent – the minority share of film employment dropped a percentage point to 5 percent in 2009. This figure remained at 5 percent in 2012, highlighting the fact that minorities continued to be underrepresented by a factor of about 7 to 1 among employed film writers. On the film earnings front, the gap for minority film writers widened since the last report.
Older Writers’ Share of TV and Film Employment Remains Strong, Drops After 60: Older writers – particularly those aged 41 to 50 – claimed the largest share of employment in television and film, as well as the highest earnings in each sector. As previous reports have shown, however, the relative status of older writers tends to decline rather rapidly beyond the age of 60.
To read the report’s executive summary, click here. The full report will be published in June.
Created in response to the chronically low numbers of diverse writers hired in television and film, the WGAW’s Diversity Department developed the Writer Access Project (WAP), focused on television writers, as well as the Feature Access Project (FAP) for screenwriters, to open doors and increase employment opportunities for diverse writers. The two guild peer-judging programs are designed to identify talented, diverse writers, as well as provide viable resources for getting their work in front of entertainment industry decision-makers, including showrunners, producers, network/studio executives, agents and managers.
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Since its inception in 2009, WAP has achieved tangible results, the guild said in a statement, facilitating the employment of diverse television writers over the last five years. Still, Hunt urges in the latest report that “much work remains to be done. Other industry players also will have to redouble their efforts if significant, sustained progress is to be achieved.” The Guild continues to track the impact of the more recent FAP program, launched in 2013, on diverse screenwriters’ careers.
Earlier this year, the Guild announced its slate of 2014 WAP and FAP honorees.
A new effort recently launched by the WGAW’s Committee of Women Writers is intended to increase the industry profile of female writers in film, television and new media. Dubbed “WoW” (Women of WGAW), the program aims “to increase the visibility of WGAW women in all phases of their careers to promote equitable hiring.” To that end, they’ve launched a social media campaign employing hashtags such as #awomanwrotethat and #hirewomenwriters to highlight projects, deals and other written works involving women.
Looking beyond the Guild’s programs to improve diversity within the industry, Hunt asserts in the 2014 report: “Before we are likely to realize meaningful, sustained change … other industry players — the networks, studios, and agents — will have to go well beyond what they have routinely done in the past to address the troubling shortfalls evident on the diversity front among writers. Only then will the industry position itself to make the most of opportunities afforded by audiences whose story needs are becoming more diverse by the moment.”
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Email: jhandel99 at gmail dot com
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