Women and minority film and TV writers have made “significant” hiring gains since 2010, according to the WGA West’s latest Inclusion & Equity Report, which found that the percentage of screenwriters employed under the guild’s contract who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) has quadrupled over the past 11 years.
According to the report, the percentage of working BIPOC screenwriters increased from only 5.2% in 2010 to 22.6% in 2020, which was up from 20.2% in the prior year. Over that same timespan, the percentage of BIPOC staff TV writers nearly tripled – from 13.6% in 2010 to 37% in 2020, which was up from 35.3% the year before.
Women writers have also made impressive gains. According to the report, the percentage of women employed as screenwriters increased from 17.2% in 2010 to 29.6% in 2020, which was up from 26.5% in 2019. Over that same time period, the percentage of women employed as TV staff writers has grown from 29.3% to 45.3%, which was up from 43.5% in 2019, and are now close to reaching parity with their male counterparts.
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“Our guild is getting more diverse,” said WGA West president Meredith Stiehm, vice president Michele Mulroney and secretary-treasurer Betsy Thomas in a recent communique to their members. “Historically underrepresented writers have made significant progress in hiring, which is reflected both in their percentage of new members and, particularly, at the entry levels of TV employment.”
They noted, however, that “While women and BIPOC writers have made significant hiring progress over the last decade, men, and white men in particular, remain predominant in both the higher levels of TV employment and in features.”
In television, the report found that white men still account for a majority of the top jobs, making up 64% of executive producers and 58% of showrunners. Even so, the percentage of White executive producers and showrunners (male and female) has decreased from 92.2% in 2011 to 82.1% in 2020, while their percentage of supervising producer jobs fell from 77.7% to 53.8%, and their share of producer credits declining from 79% to 55% over those 10 years.
The hiring data, the guild leaders said, also reveals that “all writers have recently faced a difficult hiring season, with several hundred fewer jobs in screen and on TV series released in the 2020 season. This is primarily the result of the global pandemic, which affected production. As a result, there were 49 fewer TV series released in the 2020 season and 142 fewer films produced in 2020.”
“While 2021 reporting is still coming in,” they said, “we expect these employment numbers to rebound moving forward with the growth coming from work for streaming platforms.”
The report found that screenwriter employment increased by 363 writers from 2010 to 2020, and decreased by 107 writers – or by roughly 5% – from 2019 to 2020, largely due to the pandemic. The loss of TV writing jobs was even more dramatic, declining by 24% from pre-pandemic 2019 to 2020.
The report, noting that the industry is in a “period of flux,” said that “the streaming model is starting to dominate, not just for series television but increasingly for features as well. For TV writers, the dominance of streaming has thus far meant shorter episode orders, smaller staffs and the increasing need for writers to find multiple jobs to ‘make their year.’ For screenwriters, the increasing emphasis on tent-poles for the theatrical market combined with the shift of much of the rest of the feature market to streaming upends the compensation and residuals that screenwriters have historically relied on.
“The last two years have also seen a pandemic that significantly reduced the number of writing jobs due to interrupted production rather than because of long term changes in the industry. With the media companies allocating billions to invest in content for their streaming services, we expect employment numbers to rebound, with the increase in both TV and screen jobs focused on streaming.”
The report goes on to say that “The jobs numbers reflect changes in hiring patterns that have been underway for the past few seasons, particularly at the entry level of television. There is movement toward a more diverse workforce in some writing jobs.”
The percentage of new members who self-identify as women, BIPOC, disabled or LGBTQ+ has also been on the steady rise in recent years.
The percentage of new-joins who are BIPOC has doubled over the last five years, rising from just 25% in 2017 to 50% in 2021. The percentage of women joining the guild rose from 41% in 2017 to 53% last year. The percentage of disabled writers joining the guild more than tripled over those five years, rising from only 2% in 2017 to 7% last year, while the percentage of LGBTQ+ new-joins nearly doubled, from 12% to 22%.
Despite the gains they’ve made, many underrepresented groups remain underrepresented – and even more so in film than in television.
The report notes that while women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population, they accounted for only 29.6% of the film screenwriting jobs in 2020; 35.2% of the TV development/pilot writers, and 45.3% of all TV series writers.
Indeed, scripted TV series in 2020 had by far the most diverse corps of writers. According to the report, BIPOC women, Black/African Americans, Asian/South Asian/ Pacific Islanders, and LGBTQ+ TV series writers all exceeded their percentages of the U.S. population in 2020.
Black/African Americans account for 12.1% of the population, but got 15.5% of the TV series writing jobs in 2020. Even so, they got only 6.9% of the screenwriting jobs and were only 9.7% of the development/pilot writers.
BIPOC men and women, who make up 42.2% of the population, accounted for 37% of TV series writers in 2020, but only 29.6% of the working screenwriters and just 23.3% of the TV development/pilot writers.
BIPOC women, who account for 20.4% of the population, got 21.4% of the TV series writer jobs, but were only 9.6% of the employed screenwriters and 9.9% of the development/pilot writers – less than half their makeup of the U.S. population.
Latinx writers, meanwhile, remain among the most underrepresented of the guild’s ethnic minorities. According to the report, they account for 12.6% of the population, but were only 3.1% of the employed screenwriters in 2020; 3.2% of the development/pilot writers, and 5.9% of the TV series writers. These disparities are even greater if compared to the U.S. Census Bureau’s findings that Hispanics and Latinos made up 18.7% of the population.
The guild says that “in order to match WGAW’s reported demographic data as closely as possible, the number for Latinx reflects folks who identified with only one racial identity – if they identified as more than one race, they were included in the multi-ethnic/racial category.”
Multi-ethnic/racial people account for 10.7% of the population, but got only 3.8% of the development/pilot writers; 8.5% of the screenwriting jobs and 8% of the TV series writing gigs.
According to the report, Asian/South Asian/ Pacific Islanders make up 6.1% of the population, but were only 3.4% of the employed screenwriters in 2020; 6.4% of the TV series writers, and 5.9% of the development/pilot writers.
Native American/ Indigenous/First Nations people account for 2.9% of the population, but got less than 1% of the film and TV writing jobs in 2020. The guild found that Middle Easterners, which includes North Africans, are similarly underrepresented, making up 3% of the population but getting less than 1% of writing jobs.
The report also found that ageism remains prevalent in the industry. Seniors who are 55 and older make up 29.4% of the population, but only accounted for 18.1% of the working screenwriters in 2020; 20.4% of the development/pilot writers, and 15.2% of the TV series writers.
LGBTQ+ writers, however, are fairly well represented. According to the report, LGBTQ+ people account for 7.9% of the population, and got 11.6% of the TV series writing jobs; 6.2% of the screenwriting assignments, and 6.4% of the development/pilot writing jobs.
Writers with disabilities, however, are the most underrepresented group tracked by the guild. According to the report, they make up 26% of the population, but less than 1% of the screenwriters; 1.7% of the series TV writers, and 1% of the development/pilot writers.
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