Only 35% of writers’ rooms for the 2016-2017 television season had a black writer on staff, finds a new report by Color of Change released today. And within that 35% of rooms, less than 5% of writers were black.
That means that 65% of writers’ rooms examined for the report, entitled “Race in the Writer’s Room,” featured no black writers at all, while only 17% of rooms featured two more more black writers.
“The outrageous level of exclusion in writers’ rooms has real-life consequences for black people, people of color and women,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, in a statement.
The report was created from an examination of 234 original, scripted comedy and drama series from 18 different networks during the previous television season. AMC stands out as “the worst on overall inclusion” when considering both race and gender, according to the report, as well as CBS and the CW, which the report says have a “black problem” because they’re lacking black writers.
The report also finds that 91% of the showrunners across the 18 networks they studied were white and 80% of them were men.
Additionally, the report finds that in 17% of rooms that employ a single black writer, that writer is often excluded from influencing the creative process and passed over for advancement. Only 13.6% of shows led by white showrunners had two or more black writers in the room, but every room led by a black showrunner had multiple white writers.
Robinson acknowledged that while shows like “Queen Sugar” and “Insecure” are examples of programs that do boast diverse writers’ rooms, they are exceptions.
“Hollywood executives make decisions every day about who gets hired. Their exclusion of black showrunners and writers results in content — viewed by millions of Americans, year after year — that advances harmful stereotypes about black people and creates a more hostile world for black people in real life,” Robinson said, imploring Hollywood to “do better.”
While one of the ways networks say they are doing better is through diversity programs, “Race in the Writer’s Room” finds that these programs are also failing to increase opportunity for writers of color. Multiple writers who were interviewed for the report stated that they felt showrunners cycle through writers of color for the year that they get them through these diversity programs but then don’t end up hiring them. Instead, they often to just take on another junior writer who is free of charge to their production budget. The report states this cycle gives a “false appearance of inclusion, while actually limiting the ability of a critical mass of writers of color to build seniority over time and gain influence in the industry.”
Color of Change’s recommendations in the report include changing hiring practices by mandating genuine inclusion in outreach, application, interview and assessment processes, as well as setting public goals for inclusion in hiring and in talent cultivation, supported by real budgets and concrete shifts in practices and transparency. Color of Change also implores advocates and influencers within the industry to work together towards change.
Color of Change commissioned Darnell Hunt, Dean of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at UCLA to produce this report, which also includes a forward from Mara Brock Akil, who, along with her husband Salim Akil, runs the CW’s upcoming new superhero drama “Black Lightning.”