No showrunner or producer should have the excuse of not being able to find Black women writers for their shows.
When asked about their all-white and male writing rooms, too many in Hollywood have used the excuse of not being able to find Black women writers and other women writers of color. That excuse was used just a few weeks ago during November’s Producers Guild of America’s Produced By: New York conference when showrunners talked about how hard it supposedly is to find available women writers. The Hollywood Reporter has taken that long-standing excuse to task by publishing this explosive piece featuring 62 Black women writers working in Hollywood today.
The article highlights Black creative networking group Black Women Who Brunch, co-founded by All American showrunner Okoro Caroll, Erika L. Johnson, a former writer for BET’s Being Mary Jane and producer for NBC’s upcoming show The Village and writer, producer and The Chi creator Lena Waithe. Several members of the group spoke with the outlet about the challenges they face being Black women trying to make it in a still gender and race-biased industry.
Many talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how information on how to break into the industry is mostly unavailable for young Black creatives. Once in the industry, there are still barriers to overcome.
“Assistants of color are less likely to be looped in on or recommended for writer’s assistant openings because they are less likely to be asked to lunch or invited to social gatherings by their non-minority peers,” said Morenike Balogun Koch, producer for Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy. “You have to do the asking. There’s a weird social isolation going on. You’re just not thought of at times.”
“People of color, who often don’t have the generational wealth or financial support system to attend film schools or work almost for free for years as an intern or assistant, are at a disadvantage,” said Felischa Marye, story editor for Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. “They are not in the pipeline.”
“The numbers attest: Black showrunners represent only 5.1 percent of the pool,” said Jewel McPherson, executive story editor for Fox’s Star. “Non[B]lack showrunners, agents and studios enjoy the public praise they get for supporting lower-level diversity programs. However, they fail to promote capable writers of color to upper-level positions.”
Many also talked about being the only person of color in their writer’s room. Angela Harvey, currently the supervising editor for ABC’s Station 19, spoke about the first season she was in a writer’s room.
“…I was the only woman and the only POC. I would jokingly preface my pitches with, ‘Well, speaking for all the female and non-[W]hite persons of the world…,’ hoping that a spoonful of humor would help the medicine go down. When you’re the only one in the room with a specific understanding of a story, there’s no one to kick ideas around with. It’s just you in the hot seat with 10 pairs of eyes boring into you. In some rooms, folks are genuinely trying to understand. In others–watch out.”
Latoya Morgan, a co-executive producer on AMC’s Into the Badlands, also talked about how being with other Black creatives helps foster even more creativity.
“The times when I was with another [B]lack writer were fantastic. The person I worked with was more experienced than I was, so I stepped up my game to match hers,” she said. “I got the peer-to-peer mentorship that I’d always hoped I’d get from a showrunner but never did.”
What the women wished Hollywood would finally get is that all Black women have a voice. It can be best summed up in what Jenina Kibuka, story editor for Starz’s P-Valley said in her response.
“…[W]e aren’t a monolithic group. We’re multidimensional and would like to be treated as such.”
You can read the full story at The Hollywood Reporter.
Photo: Claudia Lucia for The Hollywood Reporter