Writers Guild West Criticizes "Blatant Omission" of Older People in Academy Diversity Rules

Writers Guild of America Building - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of WGA West

The union's Career Longevity Committee is calling on the industry to "Read us. Hire us. Give us a chance to show you that we can contribute."

A few weeks after the Academy unveiled its new inclusion requirements for the Oscars, the Writers Guild of America West is criticizing the "blatant omission" of standards for hiring older creatives in the rules.

A new letter penned by the WGA West's Career Longevity Committee to the entertainment industry, which enumerates on barriers to access for older writers in the industry, states that "Through this blatant omission by the gold-standard of our industry – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – we have realized that our day of equity will never come unless we stand up, demand it and take action to achieve it."

The Academy Inclusion Standards, announced Sept. 8, calls for adequate representation of women, specific racial and ethnic groups, people who identify as LGBTQ+, people with cognitive or physical disabilities and people who are deaf or hard of hearing, for films to qualify for the best picture Oscar.

The WGA West committee states that the exclusion of older people in the Academy's new rules continues decades of a "painful reality – that older writers are the only diversity category that it is socially acceptable to discriminate against." Discrimination has taken the form of older writers being "shut out" of representation by agents and managers, who champion writers to major companies; hiring entities saying they "don’t know how to find" older writers; hiring entities claiming older writers are out of touch with today's audiences or won't be able to write about people of other generations; and networks and studios maintaining "approved writers lists," among other practices, according to the letter.

The letter further claims that older writers in the WGA's ranks, which include women and people from  the LGBTQ+, BIPOC and disabled communities, have participated in access programs and "have watched the perpetuation of hiring practices that include all other protected classes while older writers remain excluded." The WGA West's Annual Inclusion Report in 2020 found that 18 percent of hired screenwriters and 12 percent of TV writers were over 55 in 2019, despite the fact that 29 percent of the U.S. population is over 55 and the majority of broadcast TV viewers are also over 55. Just one percent of writers at the supervising producer level or below in television were over 55, the report found.

According to the latest Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study, women over 40 comprised just 25.4 percent of speaking roles and 3 percent of leads or co-leads in 2019's most popular films. The report did not present analysis on age in other creative roles in filmmaking.

"The solution to ending this discrimination is simple: Read us. Hire us. Give us a chance to show you that we can contribute in any medium and in any genre just as effectively as any writer on your current payroll," the letter continues. "We deserve sincere, assertive and proactive engagement for the decades of disregard and dismissal the industry has hurled at us."

In 2000, 165 television writers sued 17 networks, production studios and agencies in a class-action suit over age discrimination and settled for $70 million in 2010. According to a New York Times analysis, after legal fees and other expenses, that left roughly $245,000 for each plaintiff. According to a representative for the WGA West, "the amount of payout per writer speculated by the NY Times is inaccurate."

In its letter, the WGA West called the class-action settlement "an insignificant payout" and said that "nothing changed and older writers were still shut out of representation."

Read the full letter at the WGA West's website.

Sept. 30, 5:05 p.m. Updated with a WGA West statement on the New York Times analysis.