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An organization of diverse television writers has a few concrete suggestions for industry companies disseminating sympathetic statements in response to nationwide protests over systemic racism.
On Tuesday the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity, a group of intersectional working television writers that looks to improve inclusion and work conditions in the industry, published a “call to action” to Hollywood leaders based on data that TTIE and the WGA have recently released showing experiential disparities between over- and underrepresented TV writers in the industry.
“As television professionals, we must take responsibility for the harm that damaging TV tropes have done to the Black community,” the message says, arguing film and TV imagery and messages contribute to racial profiling. “Hollywood has a long history of centering whiteness in all facets of the industry, maintaining a culture of white supremacy on both sides of the camera. We need to change how we do business.”
The call to action specifically asks showrunners, creative executives, non-writing producers, business attorneys, talent representatives and staff writers to, first, prioritize hiring Black writers on all stories, not just stories with Black characters, and not simply to satisfy inclusion quotas. Black writers “contain the rich, nuanced stories of a vastly underrepresented (and often misrepresented) community, and they’ve observed all facets of American society with clear eyes and a unique perspective,” the group says.
Other priorities the group suggests include fairly paying Black writers and supporting them as they progress in their careers. (The group adds that workplaces should examine whether they are hospitable to all voices speaking up and, if not, to fix the situation: “The loudest voices in any room can take up the most space. Don’t let them.”) Supporting Black creative executives, another suggestion, would help companies acquire and greenlight more inclusive stories, the group adds. And: “We call on you to sit in the discomfort of stories you may not recognize,” which the group says means telling non-stereotypical Black stories and allowing Black showrunners to helm their shows without heavy influence from white “gatekeepers.”
Finally, TTIE recommends that Hollywood leaders ask for help in learning about how to be more inclusive — recommending nonprofit advocacy group Color of Change in particular — and use a moment of rapid social transformation to change the way their companies business. “Do not let your discomfort be a barrier to transformation,” the message concludes.
TTIE’s “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writing” study, released in mid-May, found that nearly 50 percent of underrepresented writers and 55 percent of writers of color have repeated an entry-level “staff writer” job at least once, while 35 percent of overrepresented writers have done the same. Forty-five percent of respondents said that they had only one underrepresented writer on the upper level of their writers rooms and underrepresented writers were 25 percent less likely to sell a pitch or pilot compared to overrepresented writers.
Only a few weeks later, the WGA West’s latest inclusion report warned that despite “steady gains” for women and people of color in writers rooms over the past decade, “systemic discrimination against writers from underrepresented groups remains pervasive in the entertainment industry.” People of color held 35 percent of writing jobs during last year’s TV season while accounting for 40 percent of the U.S. population, and held 18 percent of showrunner positions.
“It’s time to move past statistics and statements. It’s time for meaningful action. This isn’t just about jobs and stories — it’s about lives,” Angela Harvey, Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit, Jr. said in a statement on behalf of the TTIE Steering Committee about the call to action. “Studies show that about 75 percent of white people in America don’t have any non-white friends. What the vast majority of white Americans know about non-white people, they learn from movies and TV. We need to tell stories that counter the harmful tropes and stereotypes Hollywood has helped create. America is all of us. We all have hopes and dreams, struggles and triumphs. We all contribute to the rich fabric of our society. It’s time Hollywood shows that.”
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