WGA sends a major message to writers

Guild diversity report targets showrunners

HOLLYWOOD — In the wake of Wednesday’s report showing that minority writers are still proportionally underrepresented in the entertainment industry, the WGA has a message for producers: You can do well by doing good.

“There’s this belief out there that there’s a trade-off between diversity and the bottom line. That’s not the case,” said Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA. “Shows that are quite diverse are doing really well.”

Hunt was part of a press conference at the WGA’s Hollywood HQ where guild officers discussed the report (Daily Variety, Oct. 12) and what the industry can do to increase minority representation among industry writers.

Hunt, who prepared the report, said it shows the industry remains “insular and all but closed to many groups of writers.”

“Until this basic structural truth is addressed, and until a norm of inclusion is enacted by industry gatekeepers both large and small, it is unlikely that the familiar story told in this report will change in any dramatic way,” Hunt said.

TV vet John Bowman, who is on the WGA board and is co-chair of the diversity committee, said the guild will send out the message that shows are actually stronger when they include minority writers.

“When you see culturally diverse staffs, you see Latinos that sound like Latinos, blacks that sound like blacks. Good storytelling requires integration.”

Bowman mentioned the “Law & Order” shows as benefiting from having an older staff. “I think you see a certain wisdom in the storytelling as a result.”

He said showrunners must make more of an effort to seek out minority, women and older writers. “It’s not the studios, it’s not the networks. It’s the executive producers who are members of this guild,” Bowman said.

Sonja Augustine, the Writers Guild of America West’s director of employment access, said much of the problem is a matter of industry groupthink. “You have large groups of people all reading the same projects and the same groups of writers because they’re hot,” she said.

She added that there’s a certain amount of fear of making “some suggestion that has not been blessed by the tastemakers.”

Even agents, said the panel, are subject to this groupthink, and it’s up to producers and showrunners to demand they send more scripts by minority writers. “They’ll sell whatever people will buy,” Augustine said. “They’ll find people from Iceland if the industry asks for them.”

Augustine conceded that these diversity efforts may put the guild in the position of encouraging the hiring of some writers over others but said it’s a matter of “normative values.”

Augustine asked members to look at the current numbers and ask, “Does this look all right?”

“You can keep the current situation, where there are a few writers who work a lot, or you can open things up and have more people included,” she said.

WGAW exec director David Young added that the guild hopes to expand employment opportunities for all writers by expanding its jurisdiction.

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