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SYFY WIRE Black Lives Matter

WGAW Committee of Black Writers demands Hollywood revolutionize the way it hires writers

By James Comtois
Writers Guild of America Strike 2007 Getty Images

With more media and entertainment companies issuing statements voicing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, the Writers Guild of America West Committee of Black Writers has issued an open letter demanding that employers within Hollywood drastically overhaul their hiring practices.

Signed by committee co-chairs Michelle Amor and Hilliard Guess, and vice chair Bianca Sams, the letter points out that the film and television industry continues to deny jobs for Black writers while disproportionately hiring white writers, even for narratives centered around Black characters and experiences.

"We need to revolutionize the way our industry hires writers," the letter states. "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."

In addition, studios "must abolish the practice of only hiring writers from very exclusive lists," and that if studios continue to only hire other white people, then they "are enabling the spread of unconscious bias and racial inequity in Hollywood."

The committee cites UCLA's 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report that reveals that white male writers still got 80% of all film jobs in 2019, while black writers only got 5.6% of writing jobs, despite there being at least 808 members of the Writers Guild who self-identify as Black. Meanwhile, the WGAW 2020 Inclusion Report found that "systemic discrimination against writers from underrepresented groups remains pervasive."

"Black writers have been critically underrepresented in this industry at the expense of consistently authentic and diverse storytelling," the letter states. "Since your inception, you have been committed to disregarding the depth and value we bring to your studios, companies, and productions."

This demand for reform from the WGAW committee comes at a time not only when the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving millions unemployed and uninsured — with a disproportionate amount of Black people impacted — but also during a growing nationwide movement demanding greater accountability from law enforcement and government officials, after George Floyd died last month when a Minnesota police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Several media companies have recently announced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. On Thursday, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced its new racial equity and inclusion initiative called Sony Pictures Action. Disney recently pledged $5 million to the NAACP and other non-profit organizations, while Apple, YouTube, and Comcast (which owns SYFY WIRE) each donated $100 million to organizations that fight for social justice. But there's more to be done.

The committee demands that Hollywood "commit to a new, institutionalized system of accountability with and to Black writers." Otherwise, they're just proving that they're "putting on just another strategic, virtue-signaling performance deemed necessary to survive the times."

"When you need us (and you will need us), you now know where to find us. Have your people call our people," the letter concludes.