'Grey's Anatomy' Boss to Hollywood Agents: Stop Blaming #MeToo (Guest Column)

Showrunner Krista Vernoff takes on the "super funny — and by funny I mean painful" notion that male TV writers are “losing” jobs to women as Hollywood attempts to remedy a historic gender imbalance behind the camera.
Koury Angelo
Vernoff’s credits also include writing and/or producing for 'Charmed,' 'Private Practice,' 'Wonderfalls' and 'Shameless.'

The headlines are — depending on whom you talk to and what day it is — exhausting or galvanizing. Since the name Weinstein went from synonymous with Oscar contender to synonymous with sexual assault, Hollywood doesn’t quite know which way is up.

For example, there was a piece on The Hollywood Reporter’s website June 1 — covering an extended Twitter thread from writer-producer David Slack — about agents telling their unemployed male writer clients that the #MeToo movement is responsible for their lack of a job. The idea that some agents are doing that is super funny — and by funny I mean painful. And by painful I mean so incredibly false and damaging it makes me want to stay in bed all day.

#MeToo is an international movement comprising millions of women raising their voices to say “I, too, have experienced sexual harassment and/or assault.” The idea that this movement cost men who aren’t sexually abusive their jobs is the very kind of thinking that causes rape and assault survivors to remain silent. It is the kind of insidious messaging that has no place in the town that creates the content that influences the mindset of media consumers worldwide.

If you have an agent who used #MeToo as an excuse for not getting the job done, please consider that it might be time for a change to your team.

That said, let’s talk about Time’s Up. Time’s Up is a movement and an organization whose mission statement suggests that time is now up on inequality in the workplace. So did Time’s Up and the inclusion push that accompanied it make it marginally harder for white men this staffing season?

I’m told that it did. Because it really needed to. Because while women make up 51 percent of the general population, we make up less than a quarter of the membership in the Writers Guild. For people of color, that percentage is in the teens. The DGA numbers are even worse.

Therefore, some executives and showrunners, good people who want to do their part to create a more balanced Hollywood landscape, followed through on a commitment to read and meet and — wherever possible — hire more women and people of color. It hasn’t been radical. The numbers are still depressingly skewed. The vast majority of writers rooms still contain about nine men and two or three women, and the percentages for female directors are worse. But still, there was an impact.

I know that it’s painful to be told that you aren’t being considered for a job because of your race or gender. I know, because for the entire history of Hollywood, up to and including now, women seeking jobs in writers rooms have been told, “They already have their girl.” (Although again, I hear there has been a modicum of progress and the sentence has evolved to, “They already have their entry-level woman.”)

As the scales shift ever so slightly toward gender balance in what remains a radically imbalanced business, it’s going to make some people who are not used to experiencing this struggle uncomfortable. And to those people I offer the advice that women and people of color have been receiving since Hollywood time began: Work harder. Don’t just be better than your competition, be undeniably better. Write another sample. Write a different sample. Write a better sample. And don’t give up. No matter what your race or gender is, talent rises to the top.

This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.