Report shows uphill battle ahead

The push to increase diversity among showbiz writers remains an uphill battle, a new report concludes.

The WGA West’s 2009 Hollywood Writers Report finds “little if any” improvement in employment and earnings for women and minority writers. The report, authored by UCLA professor Darnell Hunt and recently posted on the WGA Web site, found that women scribes remain stuck at 28% of TV employment and 18% in features while the minority share has been frozen at 6% since 1999.

“White males continue to dominate in both the film and television sectors,” Hunt wrote. “Although women and minorities closed the earnings gaps with white men in television a bit, the earnings gaps in film grew. These findings are clearly out of step with a nation that elected its first African American president in 2008, a nation in which more than half of the population is female and nearly a third is non-white.”

The report is the sixth such document generated for the WGA West and focuses on guild data between 2003 and 2007 — showing, for example, that women TV writers earned about the same in 2007 ($82,604) as they did at the beginning of the five-year report period in 2003 ($82,000) with spikes in 2005 and 2006 while white male writers saw a gain of nearly $4,000 over the report period (from $84,300 to $87,984) after peaking at $100,000 in 2005 and 2006 as earnings for most writers declined in 2007 due to the writers’ strike.

The report also noted that film earnings for women have declined from the 2003 figure of $62,500 to $57,151 in 2007.

“By contrast, the earnings of male writers increased by more than $8,000 over the period, from $90,476 in 2003 to $98,875 in 2007,” Hunt said. “The previous Hollywood Writers Report noted that while women writers had made considerable strides in television earnings, they appeared to be going backwards in film earnings. The current report suggests that these trends continue to hold for women writers relative to their white male counterparts.”

For minorities, the earnings gap in TV declined between 2003 and 2007 as minority TV writers earned $75,658 two years ago while white male writers averaged $87,984. But in film, the gap has widened significantly with $87,392 for minorities in 2003 versus $90,476 for white male. Minority earnings in film slid to $61,912 in 2007 while white male earnings increased to $98,875.

The report also noted little’s changed in distribution of TV employment between older and younger writers. Scribes aged 41 to 50 took 35% of the job slots with 37% of the work going to writers aged 31 to 40. Writers under 31 accounted for 6% and writers aged 51 to 60 declined a percentage point from 19% in 2005 to 18%.

Hunt also praised the WGA West for its new Writers Access Project, a script-judging contest aimed at identifying mid-level diverse writers who appeal to showrunners looking to staff their shows. A total 154 writers submitted scripts and 36 made the final cut with over 140 WGA high-level writers participating in the inaugural judging process earlier this year.

A total of 21 writers from the contest landed jobs, including slots at “Cougartown,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Hawthorne.” The guild’s now conducting the second contest with a Nov. 30 deadline for submissions and plans to eventually expand the process to the film sector.

“We think that the contest is helping to dispel the myth that there’s a lack of diverse writers in Hollywood,” said Kimberly Myers, the director of diversity for the WGA West.

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