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Five years ago, 20 women gathered in lawn chairs in One Day at a Time co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett’s backyard and the Latina TV Writers Brunch Group was born. “The purpose was, ‘Let’s socialize, let’s get to know each other so we can form our own version of the Old Boy network,’” says co-founder Diana Mendez, a co-producer on ABC’s The Rookie.
Mendez organized the group during her time as a staff writer on Fox’s Rosewood, where she heard some of the Black male writers on the show had been part of a similar meetup for 10 years and wondered, “Where’s the Latino group?” She wanted to create a space where Latinas, who often may be the only person of color in a writer’s room, could share experiences, challenges and Hollywood hacks for navigating the industry, she says.
Now 150 Latinas strong — including EPs Kellett, Vida‘s Tanya Saracho, Diary of a Future President‘s Ilana Peña and Superstore‘s Sierra Teller Ornelas — they have gone beyond brunch meetings to establish La Lista, a public online database with the names, credits, genres and contact information of each woman in the group, spurred on by the writers vs. agents standoff that left young POC writers especially vulnerable after splitting with their talent agents. The move for a public list came after many of the group’s writers were fielding daily calls from execs and producers looking for Latinx names.
“So often what you hear in the industry is, ‘I couldn’t find any Latino writers.’ I’m like, well we know we exist, we’re all hanging out with each other, so it’s clearly just a pipeline problem,” says co-founder Judalina Neira, a writer on Amazon’s upcoming series Daisy Jones and the Six. “What’s great is we have this database now where it’s like, ‘Okay, you’re looking for a Colombian who likes to write half-hour culturally specific shows? Great, I know who that is.’”
2020 has also seen the Latina TV Writers Brunch Group move into mentoring, with more than 40 Latina writer’s assistants and script coordinators paired with higher-level professionals for (at the moment, virtual) one-on-one meetups. The goal is that these mentorships will help assistants land staff writer jobs, then join the main Brunch Group to continue the cycle. Mentees are matched with their mentors based on TV genre and career goals (even down to single-cam vs. multi-cam) for monthly meetings, and a database of writer’s assistants is also kept so that if a writer is working on a show looking for assistants, one from the group can easily be found.
Aside from help getting a foot in the door, these mentorships also teach young people now to navigate the industry, from advice on business managers and accountants to benefits and childcare, and even overcoming cultural lessons.
“As the daughter of immigrants, there’s this idea like, ‘Don’t ask for help. Raise yourself up by your bootstraps, we’re going to do it,’” says Mendez. “It’s the immigrant work ethic that’s drilled into a lot of us, speaking for myself for sure. And that shit doesn’t fly in television, you need to ask for help.”
Neira adds that the mentorship program has also been helpful in having discussions with up-and-comers about handling racial discussions and microaggressions, as well as how to respond to script and development notes. And as renewed conversations of racial justice and equality have taken over Hollywood in recent months, she says that she has a simple answer for studios and networks frequently reaching out on how to help with Latinx representation.
“Training isn’t the problem,” says Neira. “The problem is buying and hiring, that’s the bottom line. If you want to have more shows by Latinx creators, buy shows from Latinx creators. I know that sounds so obvious, but that’s the barrier for entry.”
Until then, the Brunch Group will continue to create its own pipeline of Latinx talent.
“Some people are lucky and they are born into the business, or their uncle or cousin hooks them up,” says Mendez. “99.5 percent of our members don’t have any connection like that. We just have each other.”
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