WGA’s New Diversity Database: Will It Help Or Hurt Writers?

By:

Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in Blackish, the show about a father who thinks his children have lost their roots. Photo courtesy: ABC

Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in Blackish, the show about a father who thinks his children have lost their roots. Photo courtesy: ABC

From #OscarSoWhite to the federal EEOC investigating the lack of working female film directors, outrage over Hollywood’s lack of diversity is everywhere. Now, the Writer’s Guild of America is doing its part to address the problem by creating a searchable database of its diverse members – but will it really make a difference?

To be clear, joining the diversity database is not mandatory for WGA members, it is completely optional. Categories include gender, age (specifically if one is over 40 or over 50), race, languages spoken, sexual orientation and disability. The idea is that any producer or filmmaker looking for writers in one of these categories can easily go online to the WGA website and search for them.

Writer David Radcliff has been a member of the WGA West’s Writers with Disabilities Committee for about three years. The committee is just one of several operating under the diversity department umbrella to advocate for better representation of disabled people on screen and behind the scenes.

Radcliff says he thinks having a database of self-described diverse writers is a huge benefit, not only to minority groups, but also to film and television audiences. “I have cerebral palsy, and when I was growing up, I didn’t see anyone like myself on television, unless that person was in the hospital. That sends an unfortunate message to audiences about what opportunities are available to disabled people.”

Across all the diversity committees at the WGA, Radcliff says there’s a lot of talk about the impact of accurate, positive representation of these groups in the media. “Ultimately, a database that pulls together these different resources and talents would potentially open up opportunities for diverse people to work in the industry and influence the content it creates.”

But Radcliff admits opting into a disability database is a double-edged sword. “A lot of disabled people choose not to admit they have a disability because they believe that disclosing it would limit employment opportunities. Unfortunately, that could possibly be true. There really aren’t many writers with disabilities working in film and TV, and I don’t think that’s coincidental.”

Minnie Driver has been cast as the lead in Speechless, a new ABC comedy about a family with a special-needs child.

Minnie Driver has been cast as the lead in Speechless, a new ABC comedy about a family with a special-needs child.

One bright spot for Radcliff is the upcoming ABC TV show, Speechless, that stars Minnie Driver as the mom of a non-verbal special needs child, played by actor Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy in real life. “I hope it’s not just stories about this family, but also that the writer’s room includes people with disabilities as well. No one would expect a show like Black-ish to be written just by white people, right?”

The database also allows writers to identify their gender or age, with separate categories to identify if they over 40 or over 50. TV comedy writer, Susan Hurwitz Arneson, says she will definitely not opt in to share her age.

“I’m not going to out myself on something that may be perceived as a negative, or might prevent me from getting staffed.”

Arneson sees both ageism and sexism as real problems in Hollywood and admits she’s been personally affected. “As a woman trying to get staffed on shows, producers have said, ‘We love Susan, but we already have a woman on staff.’  That’s the mindset you have to change. If a show has three lead female characters, we should see more than one female writer.”

African-American screenwriter, Bryan Edward Hill, says simply “opting-in” to a database for diversity doesn’t tackle the real problem, which he thinks is the perception of ability.

“As a black male writer, I have to fight to be regarded as intelligent as a white male counterpart. My mind has less value in Hollywood than the white version of my mind. I’ve continually been forced to demonstrate that I have a perspective outside my own race and experience in America. The problem is believing that a female writer can write the same type of story a man can. That a person of a certain age can do the same thing a person of a different age can do.”

Though Hill thinks the database is a fine resource that can be used effectively, he brings up another issue: could this tool result in writers getting pigeon-holed because of their diversity?

“I have a bit of a kneejerk reaction because I wonder if a producer is only going to look for me as someone who can tell a story about blacks? But what if I want to write Wonder Woman? Can I not write Wonder Woman because I’m a black guy?”

Bottom line, Hill thinks the diversity problem may be generational. “You now have people growing up who just aren’t as tribal about race and gender as they used to be. When they start to get into positions of power, you’re going to see change.”

What do you think of the WGA’s diversity database? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

author-avatar

Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera's Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards

23 Replies to "WGA’s New Diversity Database: Will It Help Or Hurt Writers?"

  • comment-avatar
    william sowles June 10, 2016 (5:18 pm)

    Just another way to discriminate against older writers.

    • comment-avatar
      Ryan S. June 10, 2016 (5:42 pm)

      Inclusion of others is not discrimination against anyone else. If you feel threatened by someone other than your ‘own kind’ perhaps you need to step up your game. No one is entitled to rest on their laurels. Not even you.

  • comment-avatar
    so June 10, 2016 (5:40 pm)

    In theory it’s meant to help, but Susan Hurwitz Arneson and Brian Edward Hill make valid points. As Brian Edward Hill says, “simply “opting-in” to a database for diversity doesn’t tackle the real problem, which he thinks is the perception of ability.”

    Being a woman and/or anyone non Caucasian is still a problem. Luckily at face value my name is not gender specific. And there’s a reason I don’t include my gender in screenplay submissions: women in science fiction are still, sadly, frowned upon or seen as not that good, since women are seen as not as intelligent as men, and that if our female characters are assertive they’re “b*tches”.

    We need to start at the root of the problem: perception. One example: Look at the dress codes of people: if a woman is scantily clad she’s stereotyped as a bimbo or femme fetale only – as if a sexy woman can’t be a CEO or action hero? Yet a man who’s naked in a film is considered “brave”. Men aren’t stereotyped in film/tv the way women are… That’s merely one example. Another is 9/10 cleaning/food commercials STILL feature only the woman cleaning/cooking. We push tv shows with housewives instead of CEOs. The point is, all we’re doing is reinforcing another sexist stereotype.

    Note: I’m only commenting on the gender aspect here, as I don’t have experience as an African American. Obviously I do see inequalities, but I do also admit I have a certain level of ignorance on other subtleties.

    • comment-avatar
      Matt June 12, 2016 (7:07 pm)

      I see your point, but it is the “knee-jerk” point, and doesn’t point out the entire truth.

      Example: my last 2 screenplays have as you say “assertive” female characters, as well as ONE (just one) sexy female character. I also wrote some great antagonist female characters, not just “wife, girlfriend, secretary” or whatever, and a very diverse cast. In other words, I wrote characters that are usually men as women, characters who are usually white as black and Asian, for no reason other than I wanted a diverse cast.

      It was the FEMALE readers who chastised me for writing “bitchy” women, and antagonist female characters. The comments were almost universally from the standpoint of: I must hate women to write a female characters who’s are “bad guys” in my stories.
      So I guess I’m going back to writing my female characters as always being “nice” – therefore peripheral characters.
      Is that really what we need here?

      • comment-avatar
        JOYCE DAVIDSON June 14, 2016 (1:45 am)

        Can you ignore them? Nicey-nice is rarely interesting. I’m old and I write about nasty women.
        I suppose I’ll have a tough climb.

  • comment-avatar
    KAREN KUMOR , screenwriter June 10, 2016 (5:40 pm)

    I do applaud efforts to bring in more diversity. But the main question in a capitalistic system is what sells. What makes a profit. Given the costs of a good production, the audience has to be fairly substantial in most cases. I think the problem is actually capitalism. Since the producer wants profits he/she will look for the most profitable projects.

    I have experience in the pharmaceutical industry. It is actually the same there. A company will not invest in a vaccine if there will be lots of law suits digging into profits. In the last century no one developed drugs for rare diseases. That changed with the ability to charge enormous amounts for the rare disease treatments.

    Thus, if people are not interested in a film about: age, race, disabled, female characters etc. it will not work on a grand scheme. That being said however, writers, directors, line producers, cinematographers etc can be diverse even if the film is not.

  • comment-avatar
    H.M. June 10, 2016 (6:17 pm)

    More ‘Diversity’ in the film industry is the last thing needed today. Anyone who seriously studied all forms of American medias (film/Tv/print) and its sociologocal & mass ideological pragmatics would already know what a monumental tragedy has taken place , by this very idea of ‘more diversity in films’ ? The point is it was a good idea to gradually introduce more race representation and alternative viewpoint into the American society/audience, which started small back in the 50’s and gradually gained a more pronounced momentum throughout the 70’s, until during the 80s and into the 90’s it was very apparent (even to a blind man) that scripts written with a ‘ white male protagonist’ were avoided like the plague . And this trend has continued to this very day. Anyone who would have studied , or actually documented 100% of TV commercials created over the past ””30 years”” would be amazed at the results it would produce : If a TV advertisment or ‘commercial’ that appears every 15 minutes on every channel (excluding cable tv) were to be cataloged and analyzed properly in that in every situation the study group would have to chose a ‘protagonist’ or the educated voice of the overall message , would find that either a ‘wpmen’ or a ‘black’ (man or women) was the ‘voice or reason’ / the educated one / or the overall ‘GOOD’ human , in the 30-60 second message promoting whatever product being sold ? With always either a ( definetly white) man or woman being the lesser / uneducated / uninformed / or basically ‘the bad guy’ in the short story.
    This trend to elevate black pride and promote acceptance of black culture (which was a good initial intention) has grown out of control, to the point now 30 years later, that the USA has a younger generation that is afraid to publicly acknowledge ANY negative observation of blacks in society ? No matter how much truth supporting the facts are revealed ? So now apparently horrific crimes commited by black criminals against whites go un-published, But,… at the same time any potentially unjust crime against a black is exploded into the medias and fueled on for months ??? Even if the crime was just and deserved, the medias are too afraid to even consider possible guilt , even when overwhelming evidence is present for a reasonably intelligent mind to extract the truth through the liberal-media’s smoke-screen of fear to actually report the truth for once ! This same trend in TV news medias is just as real and still present in the TV & Film industry today aswell. Why should screenwriters take a chance with a ‘white’ male protagonist, when its 20x easier to sell a ‘black’ or ‘female’ protagonist ? The root cause of all this ‘ age of misinformation’ is solely due no other than the Jewish – dominated film production company owners, whom had very cleverly disquised this social-experiment of distorting the public’s ideology via decades of creating lies in films. And why not ? it hased proved extremely effective on the American ‘ sheeple’ mass-consciousness, because the their ignorance of facts, as well as their belief of everything they see. In summary, (with actually no racism intended) it was ‘WHITE men and women’ that spured the industrial revolution that advanced the world out of the stone age, and also created internal-compbustion engines for automobiles, jets & train transportation today, and computors and cell phones supporting this massive ‘communication-revolution’ we are enjoying today, and not to overlook it was white men/women that put us on the moon and put NASA into space exploration , which will be the next step or phase in human evolution ! So as for black contributions to the world today,…Seriously now,… how much value has ‘peanutbutter’ or the NBA contributed to all these human evolution ? Just stating ,.. give credit where its due !!!! And that all truth is self evident, but only if one chooses to open his/her eyes to reality ? Mine are wide open and always have been.

    • comment-avatar
      Ana Maria June 13, 2016 (12:56 am)

      Wow, H.M. Either you are one helluva troll or you are disturbingly ignorant. Peanut butter and the NBA? You need to educate yourself before you harm society any further.

    • comment-avatar
      Ian June 13, 2016 (1:33 am)

      It never fails that someone would cheapen and reduce the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans to an afterthought, especially under the guise and context of the topic at hand. I encourage you to dig deeper in your understanding of history, as you will find that you owe much more credit than you have stated here.

      As an African-American male, I will reserve judgment and action on this list and let time pass a while. I reasonably see both sides of this issue.

  • comment-avatar
    Sam June 10, 2016 (8:14 pm)

    Anyone interested in taking advantage of the talents of a writer with medically uncontrolled epileptic seizures? Epilepsy never seems to come up as an understood issue until it is actually seen live and in person. Ever since I was 40 and my seizures became monthly I have never been able to keep a job, sometimes even being paid to quit. What are you all afraid of? Anyone interested in a romantic comedy where the lovers discover the other has seizures, but it is not the story just something that appears and disappears twice as they both live a regular life between attacks. He dates only women rebounding from being dumped because he knows he can have a great relationship but she will dump him in just 2 months. She always introduces her latest lover to her favorite engagement ring knowing they will never show their face again. Now they both have to wait for the other to do the dirty deed.

  • comment-avatar
    Steven W. Johnson June 10, 2016 (8:26 pm)

    While opting-in to any of these databases MAY help a producer pinpoint individuals with specific viewpoints, as an older writer just beginning to explore the industry I see no reason to pigeonhole myself right off the bat. Perhaps, in a few years, with some decent credits under my belt, I may choose to add myself, but only if it is perceived by others in the industry as advantageous to me.

  • comment-avatar
    Denis F. Oliver June 10, 2016 (8:44 pm)

    If you are a talented writer, you will get hired. If you aren’t talented, listing yourself as Black, Asian, female, 40+, 50+, etc. won’t get you hired.

    • comment-avatar
      Matt, screenwriter June 12, 2016 (7:11 pm)

      If that were true, then there would be no need for this list. If people use this list, then you have to amend your statement with “unless you’re white, male or straight”, because this is about passing over people in those categories for those in the diversity categories. We’re just shuffling the groups we think it’s OK to discriminate against.

  • comment-avatar
    Stephanie M. June 10, 2016 (8:47 pm)

    Not that anything that I say will change the minds of those who think like William Sowles, but I will say that this is a step in a much more positive direction. This is an attempt at inclusion for those who have been excluded from the entertainment industry for so long for numerous reasons. I don’t understand folks who believe that inclusion of people other than “the norm” is discrimination against those who have always been considered smart, witty, and able. And “the norm” has always been elder, White men…just look at the statistics of the present and history of this industry. It’s not a myth, folks. This is a way for more people to tell their stories from different viewpoints and to tell completely different stories in general. And trust me, we have much more to share than prison, gangster, rapist, slave, maid stories (although they, too have their place and are very important as well). We’re much more multi-faceted though. With all of that said, I will be joining. I’ve been counted out of so many things as a result of my race and gender as an African-American woman that it’ll be quite an enlightening change to have who I am be reasons why I AM given a real possibility of being counted in. They will be judging writing quality as well, so all of you who think that you’re about to see some sub-par TV and film, just wait and see. You’ll be amazed at what we have and will come up with. And if you’re still negative, feel free to keep it to yourselves. Thaaaanks! Peace & Love, Stephanie

  • comment-avatar
    Bob Willsie June 10, 2016 (9:13 pm)

    This could potentially result in writers being picked to fill a checkbox on a governmental tax or grant form.

    Maybe a better way would be for a “third party” (WGA???) to register writers and assign them a randomly generated number. Then when work was submitted for pre-hiring selection have it sent in without the author(s)’ names(s) on it, just their registration number.

    That would result in selection based on work quality rather than gender, race, sexual orientation, name, or any of a dozen other biases that could come into play.

    It seems to me that a process like that wold be “fair” to everyone.

  • comment-avatar
    Mike Reed June 10, 2016 (11:44 pm)

    Not sure if this is a solution to a problem or just a band aid people can point to as a solution so they do not have to actually solve the problem.

    Sort of reminds me of the NFL requiring the interview of minority head coach candidates. Most of the time they do not seem to end up hiring the minority candidate so just a show and a well qualified minority candidate gets to fight that he got the interview on merit not just to meet a requirement.

    The only real benefit of interviewing for jobs they have no intention of hiring you for is practice and not sure interview practice and other skill development might now be a better way to spend money so the candidate does not go in with the stigma of being The Minority candidate.

    If discrimination in film is true then why and help people to understand why and who makes decisions and what is needed to convince them that it is not true only white males can write good stories.

    The people with money seem to be happy to invest in a bad sequel of a blockbuster rather than a new script so how do we change that no matter who writes it.

  • comment-avatar
    Vince Bacani June 11, 2016 (4:06 pm)

    Ultimately directors, producers, and casting directors have the final word on the diversity of the faces we see on-screen. How many diverse roles have been re-cast and given to white actors? (I am still reeling over Emma Stone in Aloha.) Why is it all on the writers to champion diversity?

    I don’t see the WGA leading the way here. Social media, podcasts, video blogs, youTube channels… these are the arenas where diversity will continue to flourish, and eventually their openness will migrate over to the mainstream media lagging well behind.

  • comment-avatar
    Christian Wick June 12, 2016 (4:52 am)

    The intent is good, but like everything in life, it will have it’s pitfalls. The biggest I can see producers already have their group of writers that they already go to, especially the big budget producers. It takes anyone a long time to work into one of those spots as well.

    Still, this will help some writers get that first step or perhaps get a writing assignment. They must be up to par though, in both talent and business. They’ll be replaced if they don’t, regardless of what they are or what the world says they are.

    #writerslivesmatter

  • comment-avatar
    Skye Dent June 12, 2016 (1:53 pm)

    The so-called new database has been available by the WGA west for over a decade. It is not new. Producers who want a more diverse and talented staff use it in conjunction with checking out the WGA writer’s credits and spec material. If you are on the list, it means that you have sold a script to a WGA west signatory. That means you were good enough to get a WGA west membership and that you have proven that you can run with the scriptwriting bulls. They can also find contact information for the writers. Most producers find writers through friends or agents. And since most writers of inclusion were not born into or brought into the same concentric circles as the power players of Hollywood, and because, despite what they say, agencies blatantly discriminate against anyone who is not a young white male, producers never get to meet non young white male writers who they could consider hiring. The list does not discriminate against young white men. That’s impossible to do in an industry that discriminates in favor of young white men. What the list is intended to do is help producers find people of inclusion with writing skills equal to or better than the usual suspects who agencies promote. What the list does is provide access to the WGA west writers who the agencies discriminate against, and who most producers don’t know exist. But, as the WGA west does not promote the list or diversity, I don’t believe that many producers even knew it was available to them. And, because the WGA west does not allow contact information to be anything other an agent or the WGA west, the list discriminates in its own way. It would be much better for the writers on the list if the WGA west would allow the members to have their own phone numbers or web sites on the list.

  • comment-avatar
    Teisha June 13, 2016 (8:42 pm)

    Take a page from Broadway and give the voices of talented artists an opportunity despite race or gender. This way the death of film and or television will never be in question because there will be a constant infusion of the industries life blood which is fresh and creative ways of seeing and spinning tales. This could do away with 500 versions of Peter Freaking Pan and is there really a need for another version of TARZAN…SERIOUSLY…STOP.

  • comment-avatar
    Tracy June 14, 2016 (12:33 am)

    I personally feel that this creates a different type of discrimination as some others have said. I should get a job because of my talent, not because I’m a woman. My husband shouldn’t miss out on a job because he is a white male. I believe that certain types of perceived minorities get jobs because of their race, gender etc instead of because of talent. I know a lot people disagree with this, however I have seen too many examples for this not to be true. Someone filling a quota of diversity instead of looking at talent/ability. People being “politically correct”.
    Hire people for talent, regardless of gender, race etc.

  • comment-avatar
    Jasmine Bivens June 14, 2016 (1:07 am)

    I have to disagree. I think that Hollywood has embraced 40 to 50s writer and actors. They have not embraced generation yolo which is the main problem. We are young, full of life, diverse, and it is time to make Hollywood Great again. The older writers are the reason why shows are being cancelled because they don’t embrace our generation. Shows That were successful back then will not appeal to us today bc our generation embraces all. The older writers need to pass the baton and stop trying to writer for us. And let us write for ourselves. This is why Hamilton has been successful. White writers need to side with Minorities instead of fighting against us.

    Stop the politics!!

  • Around the Web: More advice and articles for writers and readers | G. Robert Frazier's Adventures in Writing June 20, 2016 (6:11 pm)

    […] WGA (Writers Guild of America) has unveiled a new diversity database. Writers can opt to identify themselves by race, sex, age, languages they are fluent in, and, of […]

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Join Our Magazine
Get a free subscription to ScreenwritingU Magazine and download over 40 Academy Nominated screenplays.
No Thanks
Thanks for Joining ScreenwritingU Magazine!
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will never be shared.
Don't miss out. Join today!
×
×