Minorities face writers’ block

Underrepped scribes see few gains

Hollywood’s female and minority writers have seen little progress in job opportunities during the past seven years and remain underrepresented, a new Writers Guild of America West report shows.

The guild’s stats, issued today as part of the first such WGA West report since 1998, show TV employment for women in 2004 at 27%, while minority employment is under 10%; in features, women writers are represented in 18% of jobs, and minority representation is 6%.

The 20-page report is being mailed to the 8,000 WGA West members, and the guild will hold a news conference today with report author Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA.

“The 2005 Hollywood Writers Report replays a story told many times in previous WGA West reports: Pockets of promise may emerge from time to time, but institutionalized barriers continue to stymie progress on the Hollywood writer diversity front,” Hunt wrote in the report.

Hunt also asserted that not only have gains for minority TV writers failed to keep up with an America that’s become increasingly diverse, but that those “marginal” gains have come largely on minority-themed sitcoms.

“When these shows have disappeared from the schedule in the past, so did employment opportunities for minority writers,” he added. “Minority gains in the film sector have stalled altogether in recent years.”

Hunt also noted that women’s gains have been “minimal” since the 1998 report. “Women writers have also been unable to realize a closing of the gap between their earnings and those of white males — a gap that remains most pronounced in the film sector,” he wrote.

Other highlights from the report:

  • The gap in median TV earnings between women and white males in 2004 was nearly $12,000 ($90,041 to $78,422); for features, the gap was $19,000 ($84,963 to $65,966).

  • Minority writers saw gains in TV writing, from 7% to close to 10%, with much of the gain due to UPN sitcoms such as “One on One,” “Second Time Around,” “Cuts,” “Girlfriends,” “All of Us” and “Half and Half.”

  • The gap on feature earnings between white male writers and minority writers stood at $12,500 ($84,963 to $72,500) and $18,000 for TV writing ($90,041 to $72,325).

  • TV writers aged 51 to 60 have seen their share of employment jump from 12.4% in 1996 to 18.4% in 2004.

  • Writers aged 31 to 40 saw the employment rate rise from 64% in 1998 to 68% in 2004, while writers aged 41 to 50 saw employment decline from 58% to 52% during the same period.

Newly elected WGA West president Patric Verrone noted in an introductory message that the stats cover only writing performed under guild contracts and doesn’t include reality TV and much of indie films, cable animation, comedy-variety, documentaries and nonfiction. Verrone’s slate, which won all 11 open officer and board seats, campaigned on a platform that organizing non-union writing would be the WGA West’s top priority.

Verrone also pointed out that writing work is distributed on the basis of personal knowledge of the writer, requiring a social integration and personal access that are often lacking for women and minority writers.

“It is abundantly clear to me that diversity in hiring requires a firm commitment on the part of decisionmakers (TV showrunners as well as TV and film executives) to actively seek out and read the work of writers who are women and people of color,” Verrone wrote.

“This is not always easy, and it is rarely automatic, but, as a strong and unified guild committed to success for all members, we must insist that all writers be allowed to compete with their peers for development and staffing opportunities and that we are all properly compensated for the work we do as professional writers,” he concluded. “When any of our voices are muted, our collective volume is reduced.”

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