Last week, 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike after months of failed negotiations with Hollywood studios. This is the first Hollywood strike in 15 years, and insiders believe that this stalemate could last “at least two months” (Vulture). And this shakeup might not be limited to writers alone. Contracts for both the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, expire in June, and negotiations are likely going to include similar demands (PBS).
The demands are justifiable given a new, streaming-first digital landscape. They include requests for higher compensation for writers across the board, better residuals, minimum staffing requirements, and shorter exclusivity contracts, which would allow writers to work on other projects. They’re also looking for assurances and boundaries on the use of AI, which is threatening the jobs of creators across the board (AP).
• Follow the hashtag #WGAstrong for content to amplify and tangible ways you can support the writers’ strike. Here is a list of picket dates and locations.
• Choose the television show you watched most recently and look up the writers involved. Based on available public information, research the racial and gender composition of that writers’ room. How does it reflect the story? The main characters? You can find information on IMDB.
Fair wages and equitable compensation are critical to ensuring that writers have a chance to do good work—especially those most marginalized. Non-white, disabled, and other marginalized writers are statistically less likely to have the wealth and opportunities to thrive within low-pay, unstable working conditions, making it less likely for them to pursue this career and stay in the work.
And when Hollywood studios continue to work with the same writer pool, the content reflects that. Those with the most access and opportunity tend to produce homogenous content that will only resonate with the same audience. Diversity in writing directly correlates to the type of diverse stories that are told, which give new opportunities to showrunners to bring characters to life. Famed writers of color like Quinta Brunson and Issa Rae built their credibility out of Hollywood, which gave them the privilege to create within it (NPR). That shouldn’t have to be the path for marginalized writers.
“When workers have to fight for a living wage, people get lost along the way. We’ve already lost too many LGBTQ, PoC, and disabled writers on the path that the studios have taken us down and we are fighting so we won’t lose more over not being paid fairly.”Brittani Nichols, Abbott Elementary writer and WGA captain for Autostraddle
But the data also indicates that representation matters in the writers’ room for most viewers. For all viewers between the ages of 18-49, Black households, and Latine households, ratings were highest for cable scripted shows that had a relatively diverse share of credited writers. And on digital, Black household ratings peaked for shows with a majority of credited writers of color (Hollywood Diversity Report, 2022).
When writers were on strike in 2007, dozens of shows were affected, including a couple that featured narratives unique for the time period. The CW canceled Girlfriends, a hit show centering Black women, because the network decided to only continue producing shows it planned to renew for another season. The series was deemed too expensive to continue, and it never got the finale it deserved (BuzzFeed). And the vision for the show Heroes, which featured people of color as superheroes well before the Marvel franchise, was lost among the strike (Comic Book Review). Now, dozens of hit shows are already shifting focus (you can read a roundup here). What’s most damaging are the shows that we don’t know that can’t be envisioned until negotiations are complete.
Writers help build the worlds that enthrall us, terrify us, and bring us hope. It’s so important that we have equitable opportunities for writers to share stories that reflect all of us and carry forward a vision of what tomorrow can become.
• The recent writers’ strike in Hollywood demands better wages, benefits, and working conditions, which are critical for marginalized writers to thrive in a low-pay, unstable work environment.
• The lack of diversity in the writer’s room results in homogenous content that resonates with the same limited audience.
• Representation matters in the writers’ room. Lack of diversity in the writers pool leads to the loss of unique narratives and visions.