On Tuesday the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) released a report that found the number of writers of color writing for television has doubled since the millennium.
The WGAW’s 2013 TV Staffing Brief examined employment patterns for 1,722 writers working on 190 broadcast and cable television shows during the 2011-12 season. The report found the number of writers of color has increased as a group but because the share of people of color continues to grow in the U.S. population little headway has been made toward reaching anything “approximating proportionate representation,” the report found.
“From concept to characters, from plot to narrative, writers play a fundamental role in the fashioning of stories a society circulates about itself,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA wrote in the report. “But in the Hollywood entertainment industry, unfortunately, there has all too often existed a disconnect between the writers hired to tell the stories and an America that’s increasingly diverse with each passing day.”
Between the 1999-00 and 2011-12 TV seasons, women writers’ share of TV staff employment increased approximately 5 percentage points, from 25% to 30.5%. At this rate of increase it would be another 42 years before women reach proportionate representation in television staff employment.
Between 1999-00 and 2011-12 seasons, minority writers’ share of TV employment increased from 7.5% to 15.6%. Despite this increase, minorities as a combined group remain underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 in television staff employment in the 2011-12 season.
Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented among the ranks of Executive Producers in television. In the 2011-12 season, women were underrepresented by a factor of more than 2 to 1 among the writers who run television shows; people of color were underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1.
10% of shows of TV shows in the 2011-12 season had no female writers on staff; nearly a third had no writers of color on staff.
According to the report, while the number of writers of color increased as a whole, the largest percentage increase was amongst Latino and Asian-American writers.
Meanwhile, the black share of television staff employment the largest share among the minority groups has increased only .7 percentage points since the 1999-2000 season, from 5.8 percent to 6.5 percent (108 writers). African Americans, who constitute slightly more than 12 percent of the U.S. population, are still underrepresented by a factor of nearly 2 to 1 in television staff employment. Separate figures for the relatively small shares of Native writers and other race writers .3 percent (5 writers) and 1.5 percent (25 writers), respectively were included in this brief for the first time.
To help increase the number of writers of color writing for television the Guild developed the Writer Access Project (WAP), “a peer-judging program designed to identify excellent, diverse writers with television experience, and to provide a resource for accessing their work to showrunners, industry executives, agents, and managers.”
Members of WAP include “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes and “Modern Family” writer Elaine Ko.