The Writers Guild of America West Committee of Black Writers has challenged Hollywood to revolutionize its hiring practices immediately in the wake of companies asserting support for the Black Lives Matter campaign.
“As Black Americans, professional screenwriters, and members of the Writers Guild of America West Committee of Black Writers, we are grieving, we are angry, and we are unapologetically demanding systemic change,” the letter began. “We read your statements on your commitment to Black lives and have been compelled by passion and duty as your peers to respond.”
The letter comes amid nationwide protests calling attention to police brutality and systemic racism. The Back Lives Matter movement regained momentum after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 after a Minnesota police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
“We join you in conversation on how we can continue to hold our union and industry accountable to these stated commitments to Black writers specifically, and to racial equity in Hollywood in general. It is not just the future of our industry or our livelihood as writers, but our very lives as Black Americans that depend upon you listening thoughtfully and intentionally to what we have to say in response.”
Michelle Amor (“Of Boys and Men”), Hilliard Guess (“Deadly Class”) and Bianca Sams (“The Originals”) are among those who signed the letter. The WGA West board endorsed the release of a committee letter, saying it is a first for the guild, adding, “The Board of Directors felt strongly that we wanted to amplify their message.”
“We Black writers who have ‘made it’ in Hollywood have still been denied jobs at all levels, passed over for opportunities we were qualified for, rejected from writers’ rooms because of a “lack of experience,” unsupported when seeking to create content specifically for Black audiences, critically underpaid and mistreated compared to white counterparts, and historically ignored during awards season,” the committee said. “As potential employers, you will refuse to hire us based on the assumption that we can’t help tell “mainstream” stories, and at the same time, hire a white writer to tell a narrative about Black people. Basically, Black writers have been critically underrepresented in this industry at the expense of consistently authentic and diverse storytelling.”
The letter noted that and white male writers were hired for 80% of all film jobs in 2019 while Black writers only got 5.6% of writing jobs, according to UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report.
“We need to revolutionize the way our industry hires writers,” the committee said. “When companies and studios claim to champion diversity but refuse to prioritize hiring Black writers for a writers’ room or to contribute to Black narratives, you are perpetuating a system that either exploits or excludes Black experience and perspective. Not only are you discounting the impact of Black voices to authenticate the narrative you’re putting into the world, but you’re telling us, your peers, that our input is not important or valuable to the work this industry produces.”
They also cautioned against spreading unconscious bias.
“Studios must abolish the practice of only hiring writers from very exclusive lists,” the letter said. “If you only hire other white people you know, you are enabling the spread of unconscious bias and racial inequity in Hollywood. If you don’t know any Black writers, expand your circle. Your unwillingness to know and work with Black people is part of your unwillingness to humanize us as your equals. This mentality may be subtle in one context, and have the potential to be fatal for us in the next.”
The letter concluded by urging the elite executives to begin instituting real systemic change: “Basically, either you commit to a new, institutionalized system of accountability with and to Black writers, or you prove that you’re putting on just another strategic, virtue-signaling performance deemed necessary to survive the times. But you won’t be able to survive without the radical inclusion of Black writers and artists on your sets and in your studios.”