The COVID-19 pandemic and racial uprisings of last summer have created new challenges and complications for television writers from historically under-represented backgrounds, and progress has been gradual at best, according to a new survey from the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, a coalition of underrepresented television editors.
For the third year in a row, the group has conducted a large survey of under-represented television writers in Hollywood, in response to a lack of comprehensive data on the challenges they face when trying to advance in the industry. This year’s edition of the survey also aimed to assess the effects of last summer’s pandemic and racial calculus on the work of underrepresented television writers.
Overall, the survey, which included 1,226 working television writers, found that most television writers’ rooms now include more women and BIPOC writers. But writers with disabilities, LGBTQ writers, and lower-level writers over the age of 50 remain severely under-represented.
And overall, underrepresented writers remain concentrated at the bottom, survey finds, indicating Hollywood may be prioritizing ‘diversity’, but not yet prioritizing ‘inclusion’ . Most of the survey’s authors said the people who ran their shows were not from under-represented groups. This suggests that despite some signs of advancement in the industry, there aren’t enough underrepresented writers advancing in their careers or reaching positions of power where they can shape the way stories are. told and change the culture of the industry.
“It’s a mountain, and we’re still at base camp,” TTIE TV writer and co-founder Angela Harvey said at a virtual event Tuesday showcasing the results of the investigation.
Underrepresented writers also continue to experience discrimination, microaggressions and a disproportionate share of professional consequences for raising workplace issues, according to the survey. They were about twice as likely to be reprimanded or fired for speaking out about the problematic content of their shows, compared to over-represented writers.
Under-represented writers were also nearly twice as likely to “have presented ideas that were rejected, only for another author to present the same idea and be accepted.” And more than a quarter of underrepresented writers in the survey said they were “always or often” discussed or interrupted “in the writers’ room.
The effects of the pandemic
The pandemic and the subsequent shift to remote working and virtual meetings have created additional barriers for underrepresented television writers, according to the survey.
Many writers have reported feeling overworked and exhausted, but not being able to talk about it. They also said they felt less heard in meetings and brainstorming sessions held via videoconference.
In the entertainment industry, many job opportunities have come from in-person networking, which largely ceased with the onset of the pandemic. According to the survey, “nearly 40% of underrepresented writers attribute their first job to spontaneous social interactions and more refreshing conversations,” so the lack of in-person networking opportunities could create setbacks for them. television writers, especially those who are just starting their careers.
Finally, in line with previous surveys, many under-represented writers have reported experiencing sexual harassment or intimidation in the workplace. The TTIE report warns that “although overt sexual harassment may be more difficult to overcome by following #MeToo and #TimesUpHollywood, covert forms of harassment and bullying are still prevalent in the workplace, especially with the passage virtual rooms. ”
Last summer’s racial calculation led to ‘more’ but not necessarily ‘better’ opportunities
The survey results also show that while the consideration of race nationwide last summer may have put renewed pressure on Hollywood executives to build a more inclusive industry, the real experiences of Color television writers have been much slower to change.
Harvey said she has had more meetings with executives. However, she found that they wanted stories about communities of color that “fit in a certain box” and are based on familiar narratives and tropes. The TTIE report notes that “some authors feared that a push for inclusion over the past year had led to After under-represented characters and storylines, but not necessarily more nuanced, complex, and better representations. “
Several survey respondents expressed caution and skepticism about the extent to which last summer’s racial calculation will move the industry forward.
“By advocating for certain types of stories, for the characters to have an agency and more real estate, with directors, I really enjoyed telling certain stories,” one respondent said. “It doesn’t sound as progressive as I would have hoped it to be. Or as genuine. Or how it goes Carry on. ”
“We tell you that stories of racial injustice … [were] really well received, ”said one interviewee who identified herself as a woman of color. “But then when these stories were thrown or put on the board, they were sort of dismissed as being too racial or too senseless.”
Another survey respondent said that when they tried to write a black character for their show, their supervisors “were trying to ask me to make him blacker, that is, more stereotypical black, without saying anything. as much … I wrote it as a real black kid, not a stereotype.
The founders of TTIE said the survey results show that hiring underrepresented writers will never be enough if the culture around them doesn’t change.
“Even though the numbers are improving, objectively there hasn’t been enough work to change the culture and the context,” said TTIE co-founder Tawal Panyacosit Jr. “So we bring writers under -represented in a broken system.
And the work of building a more inclusive Hollywood has to be intentional, not just performative, they said.
“Writers’ Rooms do very intentional research on things like, if you’re on a law show, you’re doing tons of law research. If you’re on a medical show, you do tons of medical research. But there has to be the same intentionality in terms of research on culture and communities, and that’s not happening, ”said Shireen Razack, co-founder of TTIE. “If we continue to perpetuate the same stereotypes that we learned from the media, then nothing will change.”
Read TTIE’s full report here.
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