Guild says TV, film lack color

The Writers Guild of America West has provided another downbeat outlook on employment for minority and female scribes in Hollywood.

“I wish we could say that we did not have to issue this damn depressing report,” noted WGA West prexy Patric Verrone at a news conference Tuesday at guild headquarters. “This report has a familiar ring to it.”

Darnell Hunt, author of the guild-commissioned “2007 Hollywood Writers Report — Whose Stories Are We Telling?” asserted that the key findings show that “business as usual” practices aren’t adequate to address the lack of diversity among writers. He noted that with more than 30% of America nonwhite, minorities held only 9% of TV slots in 2005, down from 10% in 2004.

“These numbers will likely get worse before they get better because of the recent merger of UPN and the WB into the new CW Network, which resulted in the cancellation of several minority-themed situation comedies that employed a disproportionate share of minority television writers,” added Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and professor of sociology at UCLA.

Hunt also said that 40% of all TV shows aired during the 2005-06 season didn’t employ a minority writer.

The report found an even bleaker outlook in features, with minorities accounting for 6% of film jobs during 2005 — the same rate as previous years. Hunt pointed out that the gap between average earnings for white and minority screenwriters had widened by nearly $2,000 in 2005 to $77,577 for whites compared with $66,666 for minorities.

Verrone noted that the WGA West chose to issue the report — the guild’s sixth such survey of employment trends — during the TV hiring season and will continue to do so on an annual basis.

Verrone also said participation levels of minorities and women are probably higher in areas such as reality TV and feature animation, which are outside guild jurisdiction, and reiterated the commitment by the WGA to organize those sectors.

The report also found participation by women writers had remained virtually unchanged in both small-screen and features, staying at 27% in TV and creeping up to 19% from 18% in films. And in the one bright spot in the report, women managed to nearly match men in average TV earnings, at $94,123 — just $267 short of the male figure.

But the gender gap nearly doubled in film, with men earning an average of $90,000 while women’s wages slid from $65,966 in 2004 to $50,000 in 2006.

Kimberly Myers, the guild’s recently appointed director of diversity, also noted that the figures have been generated against a backdrop of good motives. “There is an intention to change, but intent without action gets us nowhere,” she added.

Hunt’s report also showed that the top earners in both film and TV were writers between the ages of 41 and 50 — $111,580 in TV and $90,000 in film. TV writers in that group accounted for 35% of employment in 2005, the same as in 2001 and 2003.

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