Slow Progress for Diversity Among Film and TV Writers, Study Finds

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Women and minority writers in film and TV are still paid less and employed less often than white or male counterparts.

A Writers Guild of America diversity report released Thursday shows little progress for women, minority and older writers in film and TV, with a few incremental gains offset by stalls and reversals. Overall, salaries and employment levels for women and minorities continue to lag behind those of male and white members of the guild.

“Progress has been slow at best for women and minority writers in an era of television renaissance, while film sector stagnation has witnessed either anemic advances or actual reversals of fortune for groups of writers that remain woefully underrepresented in both sectors,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, the report’s author and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

The new report looks at data through 2014, and while women TV writers have made minor advances in terms of employment and earnings, women screenwriters lost ground in film sector earnings. For minority TV writers, advancements in employment share and relative earnings have stalled. In the film sector, minority writers have experienced only slight gains in their share of employment and a small closing of the earnings gap.

Older writers age 41 to 60 have emerged as the highest paid TV writers among the age groups by 2014, with median earnings falling dramatically thereafter. Screenwriters age 41 to 50 remained the highest paid in the film sector. Earnings then drop, but show an uptick in the 71-80 age range.

Women’s share of television employment increased 2 percentage points between 2012 and 2014, from 27 percent to 29 percent, and female television writers earned approximately 93 cents for every dollar earned by white males in 2014, up slightly from 91 cents in 2012. But in film, the gender earnings gap widened: Women writers earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by their white counterparts in 2012. By 2014, the relative earnings figure dropped to 68 cents.

The minority share of television employment remained flat at 13 percent of television writers, while the minority share of film employment increased by a percentage point to 7 percent since 2012.

Older writers’ employment share increased slightly in television and film, with TV writers age 51 to 60 notching a one percentage point increase to 19 percent and film writers in the same bracket also seeing a one percent increase to 18 percent.

“The Guild has watched for years as the progress made by our industry has, in essence, flatlined. Today’s report makes it emphatically clear that our Guild needs not just to mirror a broken system, but to work to change it,” said WGAW president Howard A. Rodman. “We’ve already implemented successful Access Projects, in which diverse writers in film and television who have slipped between the cracks are put forward through a competitive selection process. Additionally we’ve put in place a Staff Writer Bootcamp, to give ‘diversity slot’ writers and others strategies for succeeding in their rooms; added an emphasis on the importance of hiring diverse staffs to the already robust Showrunner Training Program; hosted a public exploration of unconscious bias; scheduled workshops for our own leadership. Going forward, we are phasing in new programs to move toward the goal we all share: to ensure that at every level our industry becomes as inclusive as the audiences it serves.”

The WGAW Diversity Department’s TV Writer Access Project (TV WAP), and the Feature Writer Access Project (Feature WAP) target five underrepresented categories — minority writers, writers with disabilities, women writers, older writers (ages 55+ for TV and 60+ for film) and LGBT writers. The aim of the programs is to increase employment opportunities for outstanding, yet underutilized talent. Through an intensive script-review process, honorees are recognized and their works are made accessible to entertainment industry decision-makers, including showrunners, producers, network and studio executives, agents and managers. 

“Our commitment to spotlight and create opportunities for our historically underrepresented members is yielding results,” said Tery Lopez, WGAW director of diversity. “Progress may not be as fast as we’d like, but of the 100 honorees selected since the inception of the TV and Feature Writer Access Programs, more than half have gone on to secure staff positions or freelance work.”

Read the full report here.