As you’re probably well aware, if there is one thing Hollywood loves to do, it’s congratulate itself for taking measures that appear to be progressive while also doing nothing to meaningfully change the issues. Case in point: diversity initiatives.
Last night, Ava DuVernay talked about these initiatives during a discussion with Queen Sugar scribe Natalie Baszile at a talk held by the Writer’s Guild of America in Los Angeles. (Splinter is represented by the Writer’s Guild of America East.) As Variety reports:
“There’s a beautiful burst of shows created by women and people of color but there’s not enough Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native-American creators yet,” she said. “A lot of it is lip service. I’m really critical of diversity programs around studios. Are you staffing them? Once they do that first year, then what?”
DuVernay is right about the lip service. A recent study by Color of Change found that black writers make up just 4.8% of the writers on 234 television shows. It also found anecdotal evidence that programs meant to diversify writing rooms don’t make as much of an impact as they claim.
Almost every major broadcast network (except CBS) have “diversity slot” programs that subsidize a writer of color to join the writers room of each scripted show, but interviews conducted by Color of Change indicate that when the subsidy is over and it’s up to the show to include the writer of color in their actual budget, they often find themselves out of a job.
One writer told the researchers, “You know, because they feel whatever pressure sometimes, they’ll have some diversity in the room but they don’t want to hear what you have to say. They want you in the room so it looks good on paper.”
DuVernay’s Queen Sugar has been an exception to the norm of productions dominated by white male staff, and at the WGA she doubled down on her commitment to continue to include marginalized talent:
“I took a page from Spike Lee’s book: to be diverse categorically — documentary, narrative, commercials — so if they don’t like my movies anymore, I’ll go make docs, or TV or commercials. Or distribute films that other people make. Or I’ll write. You can’t hit a moving target. It’s a really specific strategy. I’m not going to put all my eggs in one basket,” she said.
Once again it goes to show that with more people of color and women in positions of power, inclusion can be much less of a chore or an empty subsidy and can instead be an integral part of Hollywood culture.