Study On Inclusion & Equity In TV Writing Reveals Disparities For Historically Excluded Scribes

A recent Nielsen poll found that 87% of respondents are “interested in seeing more content featuring people from outside their identity group.” To that end, a new study shows how the behind-the-scenes landscape is affecting content desired by audiences and advertisers alike.

The Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity — a consortium of working TV writers and sponsored by Women In Film, Los Angeles — surveyed more than 875 working TV writers for its fourth annual report titled “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion & Equity in TV Writing.” The goal is identify the barriers to entry and career advancement that historically excluded writers continue to face. The study pinpoints roadblocks and pitfalls to creating more authentic, inclusive and responsible story content.

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The report digs deeper into how seismic shifts in the industry — the rise of streaming platforms, the proliferation of mini-rooms and the impact of a global pandemic — affect hiring and storytelling. Here are some of the results:

  • 70% of historically excluded writers who developed new series projects in the past five years did so without pay, compared to 53% of non-marginalized writers.
  • 81% of upper-level white writers with no prior management experience are contracted to showrun their development projects, compared to only 67% of upper-level BIPOC writers who do have management experience.
  • 68% of white male and 56% of white female respondents who worked as assistants in the past secured their first TV writing job by being promoted from the assistant ranks, compared to only 26% of BIPOC men and 20% of BIPOC women who worked as assistants.
  • 76% of showrunner respondents said they received no management training prior to or during their time running a show.
  • 67% of respondents who were harassed said their showrunner was the perpetrator.
  • 48% of showrunner respondents said they could use help learning about best practices related to EDI (equity/diversity/inclusion).
  • 56% of lower- and mid-level writers did not cover set on their most recent show.

TTIE made a number of recommendations based on its findings. They include:

  • Pay historically excluded writers for development and greenlight more of their projects to series.
  • Empower experienced, historically excluded writers to run their own shows, especially taking into account transferable skills (e.g. prior management experience).
  • Create a widely accessible training program for new and experienced showrunners and co-executive producers that includes both traditional management skills and guidance on running diverse and inclusive writers rooms.
  • Institute third-party confidential exit interviews with every writer to help identify unsafe work environments and remove bias and/or discrimination in the hiring/firing/rehiring process.
  • Prioritize room-running, production, and post-production experience for writers at all levels to ensure they acquire the skills to run their own shows.
  • Maintain Zoom and hybrid writers rooms to allow for better access, especially for Deaf and Disabled writers and writers from low-wealth and low-income backgrounds.

“We’re excited to see an industry shift in the right direction,” said TTIE co-founder and co-chair Y. Shireen Razack. “The work ahead is making sure EDI initiatives and pledges lead to true culture change and improved storytelling. We invite our colleagues to use TTIE’s findings and recommendations as a guide.”

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