Leaders of New York’s film and TV production community and local legislators called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the TV diversity tax credit bill that would earmark $5 million in state incentives in an effort to open doors for more women and people of color as writers and directors.
Robin Thede, creator and host of BET’s upcoming “The Rundown with Robin Thede” and “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon were on hand for the news conference in Manhattan. Thede, Willimon and others made the case for implementing the tax credit to help spur more diverse hiring practices throughout the industry.
“I am this bill,” Thede said. “I am living proof that something like this would be beneficial for many people.”
Thede ranks as the first and only woman of color to head the writers room of a late-night TV series, from her tenure at Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.” She noted that she worked as a writer for 10 years before she worked with another woman in a writers’ room.
“I am so sick of being a ‘first,’ ” she added. “If we have more diversity behind the camera that will help what’s in front of the camera and it will help diversity become more the norm.”
Numerous speakers pointed to the disconnect between the exponential growth of TV series production during the past decade and the stubbornly low numbers of employment for women and people of color. Willimon, who is running unopposed for the presidency of WGA East, said it’s clear that the industry won’t change on its own without the prod of legislative incentives. New York, he emphasized, has a big shot at leading the charge for the entire TV industry.
“I’ve seen the same hiring practices upfront time and time again,” Willimon said. He noted that he was the only “white guy” in the writers room for his upcoming Hulu drama “The First.”
“If you find ways to incentivize (hiring), you begin to see change,” he said. “It is our hope that we’ll see that change in New York, because we will have done it first.”
Gov. Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The bill that passed New York state’s Assembly and Senate was done outside of the state’s regular budget process. Proponents hope Cuomo will sign the bill by year’s end.
State Sen. Marisol Alcantara said she took interest in the bill because of her own multicultural heritage (“I’m a woman, I’m black, I’m a Latina and an immigrant”) and her history as a TV viewer. People of color represent more than 50% of the population of New York City, but you wouldn’t know that from many TV shows.
“I remember in college watching ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld.’ I couldn’t believe this was their New York. My New York looks totally different than the New York they reflected,” she said. Fostering more diversity behind the scenes ensure that New Yorkers of all backgrounds “get to tell the story of who we are as a people.”
(Pictured: New York Women in Film and Television’s Kathryn O’Kane, State Sen. Jeff Klein, “The Rundown” host/exec producer Robin Thede, WGA East’s Lowell Peterson, DGA East’s Neil Dudich, and showrunner Beau Willimon)