No More Excuses: 5 Ways Showrunners Can Increase Black Representation Now (Guest Column)

S.W.A.T. - Publicity still - A.C. Allen-Publicity- Inset-H 2020
Jordin Althaus/CBS; Courtesy of Subject

'S.W.A.T.' writer A.C. Allen outlines how to create a more diverse writers room, including establishing HBCU internships.

As a Black female writer who writes police procedurals for broadcast, I'm a member of a very small club. Yes, I do know how lucky I am. I also spent almost a decade as a crime reporter for the New York Post, and most recently acted as supervising producer for CBS' S.W.A.T.

In my first writers room, I got lucky. The showrunners, a Jewish and Muslim duo, staffed three women, including me and another Black female. In my second writers room, it was painfully obvious that the only reason the white male showrunner staffed me was to serve as the show's token Black writer.

Several years later, more showrunners openly acknowledge that an all-white, all-male writers room is wrong, creatively and morally. How can we ask viewers to believe in the multicultural America onscreen if we can't achieve that goal in a writers room of 10 people? Showrunners can do these five things right now to increase representation:

1. Read Black writers. Instruct support staff to request and read scripts from Black writers. This isn't preferential treatment — it's equal access allowing Black writers a chance to be discovered.

2. End tokenism. One Black writer does not represent the entire race. No one expects a single white male writer to represent the voice of white males everywhere; it should be the same for Black writers.

3. Diversify production sets. The lack of Black faces below the line is still all too common and sends a powerful, silent message of exclusion. Hollywood has plenty of experienced Black crewmembers — this shouldn't be an issue in 2020.

4. Hire Black assistants. These coveted positions are important proving grounds and can lead to freelance scripts or a writers room spot.

5. Establish HBCU internships. Showrunners extend this privilege to many Ivy League students. Internships should include dedicated slots for students from historically Black colleges and universities.

A.C. Allen is developing a series about the 1958 stabbing that nearly ended Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.

This story first appeared in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.