Sometimes, I fantasize about writers’ rooms.
As a creative person, I thoroughly enjoy the collaborative nature of the entertainment industry. Yes, even as a writer who typically does most of their work in a solitary state, there is nothing like immersing yourself in the creative energy of a film set or bouncing ideas around in a writers’ room. As someone who loves TV, I’d especially love to be a part of a TV writers’ room— though honestly, I’m already in a writers’ room, so to speak, in my current job. Whether it’s via our Google Hangout staff meetings or in Slack, a writer can pitch an idea and the rest of the writers and editors may discuss the idea and fine-tune it into something workable. Sure, the terms are different—for instance, “breaking a story” is television-writing-specific while “breaking news” is journalism-writing-specific—but the processes of developing stories are quite similar, even if the types of stories (fiction/nonfiction versus news/op-eds) are different.
But, since we’re talking about fantasies and fiction, there’s been an ongoing discussion prompted by some white men in regard to their apparent concerns about the Hollywood industry’s move toward increasing diversity and inclusion. Basically, they’re afraid that all of these marginalized groups are about to take their jobs in the name of inclusion.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Actually, please don’t stop me—I have a word count to meet.
Recently, writer Ana Maria Montoya posted a screenshot highlighting a page from the book, Writing The TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV by Pamela Douglas.
In the accompanying caption, Montoya tweeted, “So mediocre white men are still blaming diversity (that they’re TOTALLY BEHIND) as the reason they’re on the bench. And committing it to print. I see.” The passage was from an interview with a white male writer who (while prefacing it that he’s pro-D&I, I guess) admitted that he has struggled with securing staff writing jobs on television shows while passive-aggressively blaming it on the recent focus on diversity and inclusion. He broke down the hiring process where priority budget is given to hiring leaders (showrunners, producers and other higher-level jobs) and the rest of the money going toward lower-level staff such as staff writers and assistants.
Anyway, let’s break down why he and other whiny whiters (yes, that spelling is intentional!) got us all fucked up!
It is typical for white males across any industry and field to complain about their apparent erasure and... *gag*…“reverse racism” whenever there is even a sniff of progression toward diversity and inclusion in the works (let’s not even get into the horrors of equity!)—this ain’t new! However, with regard to this specific industry, let’s drop some facts. According to the 2020 Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) Inclusion Report, “of more than 2,000 screenwriters employed in 2019, only 27 percent were women and just 20 percent were people of color.” White men accounted for 60 percent of that total.
As for screen credits for writers in 2019, a whopping 67 percent were white men, 14 percent were white women, 15 percent were men of color and 4 percent were women of color. Look how that number decreases drastically as we get to intersections of gender and race! That paltry number is for all people of color, too, not a specific race. Every single non-white ethnicity has to fit into that tiny bubble of a percentage—assuming all of those ethnicities are even represented in that number. Additionally, the report notes that “both women and people of color remain underrepresented relative to their share of the overall U.S. population, despite the recent gains.”
Similar to the complaints about affirmative action in general, the assumption that accompanies these industry concerns are that the very white men who are scared about not getting work are the most qualified—and not the very privileged and mediocre America they fucking represent. They always assume that the person from a marginalized group who secures the job to fulfill the mandated D&I quota is less qualified. Slow your arrogant roll, homie!
Even if we factor in that “experienced” pool that the white male writer alluded to earlier in the book, we can’t ignore the fact that there is an inherent privilege in getting to climb that ladder in the first place. As I navigate this industry, I’ve been told countless times that even the lowest level job such as writers’ assistant is highly competitive because it is a typical gateway toward getting a staff writer position and moving up said ladder, accordingly. These positions typically arise through referrals and other internal sources. That’s privilege. And I say this as someone who has secured most of my jobs through referral.
Since it can be through referrals, you have white guys hiring each other instead spreading the net wider to find possible just-as-qualified candidates. If you’re not finding “qualified” (I put this in quotes because each showrunner has different needs) folks for your writers’ room within the pool of women and people of color, it’s because you and your system never gave them the chance to acquire the experience they need because the world is so damn exclusive.
A few marginalized people finally being thrown some way overdue scraps to attempt to even the score is clearly an issue and a threat for white men who want it all—and the white entitled tears about this turtle’s pace move toward progression is so textbook, it’s almost like you can adapt it into a script for a new TV show. Get the pitch decks ready, Hollywood!