Off the Screen, TV Writing Has Never Been Less Diverse

March 5th 2015

Alicia Lutes

Everyone knows the joke: twentysomething white men write and create the vast majority of the content you see in Hollywood. And there's been no shortage of discussion about the entertainment industry's diversity problem both on-screen and off. And while many have championed TV as the medium for a more diverse representation on-screen, there's actually been a decline in jobs for women and minority writers.

Say it with me folks: two steps forward, eleventy billion steps back (give or take).

To put it simply, the report (via the Los Angeles Times) states that "the rate of progress has failed to keep pace with the rapid diversification of the nation's population." Not surprising when one considers the fact that those holding executive positions at TV studios are 96 percent white and 71 percent male, and the executives at film studios are 94 percent white and 100 percent male. (The Hollywood Reporter notes that those numbers do not reflect "Stacey Snider's jump to 20th Century Fox and Amy Pascal stepping down as co-chair at Sony Pictures.")

The most recent Hollywood Diversity Report showed that diverse audiences prefer — and are drawn to — more diversely populated programs, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes. This seems like common sense, by and large. Heck, there's a reason that Shonda Rhimes' series like Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder absolutely dominate Thursday nights, and why new shows like Black-ish, Empire, and Fresh Off the Boat have skyrocketed into rating and critical successes: people want, crave, and need to see more diverse representations on-screen. The only really authentic way to do that, of course, is by employing writers that know exactly what that experience is ...by being a minority or woman themselves.

So what the heck happened last year, TV people?

According to the report from the Writers Guild of America West, women writers' share of television staff employment declined from its 2011 - 2012 season high of 30.5 percent down to 29 percent in 2013 - 2014. That's a pretty messed up representation when one considers women account for 51% of the country's population. That's a 2 to 1 underrepresentation, folks. Not OK.

But perhaps even more frustrating is the serious tumble minority representation took from the 2011 - 2012 season to this year. During the last study, minorities were at a staffing high of 15.6 percent to 13.7 percent — an underrepresentation of nearly 3 to 1. The representation of both of these groups is even worse in other types of programming like late night, talk, and game shows, which showed 18 percent women and 3.5 percent minorities according to this year's report. The declines are also prevalent in executive producer positions, too.

So what's there to do? Try harder. Because the diversity is out there — it just needs someone invested in bringing the talent within it to light. Just look at what happened on Wednesday, when HBO's diversity writing fellowship, HBOAcess, instantaneously crashed its hosting website, Without A Box (pause here for the irony of both of those names, please). With only 1,000 applicant spots for eight fellow positions, thousands upon thousands of writers descended upon the website, rendering it inaccessible within seconds. 

And it shows that it's not about talent, as is sometimes posited by the people in power. In this environment, minorities and women wouldn't simply have better representation if only they were better and/or willing to work harder — that's nothing more than an easy way for people to place blame on those that aren't represented. This is about allowing them on the field at all — and looking to those who already hold the power to step up and make it their responsibility to make Hollywood a better, more diverse place.

The choice is yours Hollywood — are you willing to work harder?