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TV, film writers white, male



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Oct. 12--It's hard enough to become a successful film or television writer, but the odds are exponentially harder if you are not a white male, according to a report to be released today by the Writers Guild of America.

The report shows that ethnic minorities make up a mere 10 percent of the television writing work force and women make up only 27 percent. In film, women are at 18 percent and ethnic minorities just 6 percent.

"The guild is not surprised by these findings, our members live these findings every day," Chuck Slockum, the WGA's assistant executive director, said Tuesday. "The goal of this report is to raise awareness of the current state of affairs. What we'd like to see is a more diverse work force."

The study, "Catching Up With a Changing America?" places the blame for the imbalance squarely on "institutionalized barriers" that continue to stymie diversity.

"We're talking about an industry structured in a particular way, a very insular industry based on personal contact and comfort," said the report's author Darnell M. Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. "When you have traditionally a group of writers, white males, as the dominant group without any intervention, they are likely to hire people they are comfortable with and have worked with before."

Patric M. Verrone, president of of WGA, west, called on television networks and movie studios to take notice of the disparities and make a greater effort at social integration within the professional writing community.

"As a white TV showrunner over 40 married to a TV writer of color, I have experienced the hiring phenomenon first-hand from many perspectives over almost two decades," Verrone stated in the report. "It is abundantly clear to me that diversity in hiring requires a firm commitment on the part of decision makers to actively seek out and read the work of writers who are women and people of color."

While the 2004 numbers are slightly better than 1998 levels -- when the last report was commissioned -- in some areas, they were actually worse than they were seven years ago in others.

"What stands out is the sense of deja vu, we are seeing the same patterns over and over again," Hunt said. "There have been pockets of promise here and there but nothing to suggest that we are really turning the tide."

The WGA report, which is now slated to become a regular undertaking, highlights some television shows that have a writing staff that is more than 50 percent female. They include: Lifetime's "Strong Medicine" (64 percent), UPN's "Eve" (62 percent) and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" (56 percent).

The 3 percent gain made by minority television writers since 1998 is largely due to the African-American themed UPN sitcoms including "Eve" (71 percent), "Second Time Around" (69 percent), "Cuts" (63 percent), "Girlfriends" (56 percent), "All of Us" (43 percent), and "Half and Half" (31 percent).

But, the report states that the overall jump for minority television writers raises the issue of typecasting. During each year beginning with the 1999 television season, between 39 percent and 47 percent of all employed minority writers tracked by the WGA worked on minority-themed sitcoms.

Meanwhile, not only are white males getting most of the jobs, they are also better paid, according to the WGA report.

After nearly reaching parity in 2002, the gap between earnings for white males and female writers in television continued to widen and reached nearly $12,000, with white males averaging $90,041 and females averaging $78,422.

Things are even worse for women on the film front. The median earnings of female film writers in 2004 averaged $65,966 versus $84,963 for white males. The gender wage gap varied depending on how long a woman has been in the WGA.

The gap between annual earnings of ethnic minority television writers ($72,325) and their white male counterparts ($90,041) has grown to nearly $18,000. For film writers, the gap is smaller (about $12,500), with white males averaging $84,963 and minorities averaging $72,500.

"Television is better than film, not wonderful, but better than film," Hunt said. "Film tends to be uniformly bad for women and people of color."

The statistics in the report are from WGA-covered work and do not, Verrone said, cover an "enormous amount" of writing done for reality shows, independent films, and such cable channels as Comedy Central, MTV, BET, Telemundo, and the Discovery Channel, among others.

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