A new study has been published, Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories That Shape America, detailing how most of the scripted stories we watch on television are suffering from the tunnel vision of a single cultural perspective, rather than the diverse range of experiences borne from a vibrant, multicultural world.
Color of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, and they commissioned Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s dean of social sciences and professor of sociology and African American studies to lead this study. It examined 1,678 first-run episodes from all 234 of the original, scripted comedy and drama series airing or streaming on 18 broadcast, cable, and digital platforms during the 2016-17 television season.
The report demonstrates that the executives running television platforms today — both traditional networks and emerging streaming sites — are not hiring Black showrunners, which results in isolating Black writers in writers’ rooms or excluding them from the creative process.
While there are no simple, easy, or comfortable answers or solutions to the existing imbalance in television writing, to at least begin to seriously address the issue would be making a welcome step forward. It’s cynical to think that the writers rooms and the stories they tell will only become more diverse once those shows begin to generate attention in terms of ratings and critical acclaim (and to be honest, more the ratings cash than the prestige), but it’s also important to note that all of those ingrained Hollywood beliefs that “ethnic” focused programming doesn’t have enough clout or audience potential to generate those coveted ratings and revenues won’t be challenged until those numbers are productive enough or lucrative enough to no longer be downplayed or ignored.
Can the recent commercial successes of films like Moonlight and Girls Trip translate to similar success in the television and digital platforms? Several Netflix films and documentaries have gotten some serious buzz, but we don’t have viewership numbers for those to point to the potential success that such programming might experience on television.
Can upcoming films like Coco (a Disney/Pixar film centered around the Mexico’s music and the Day of the Dead holiday), Black Panther (A Marvel movie focused on an African superhero who’s also a king) perform well enough to change those perceptions and influence future features? Can the new television shows like Superstition (a paranormal show on Syfy with a Black family at the center) and Black Lightning (a superhero show with a Black family and Black community at the center, coming in 2018 to The CW) perform well enough to start to change those preconceptions of who watches television and what they want to watch?
What will it truly take for studio executives to begin to seriously consider and explore the possibilities of stories based in a more inclusive variety of communities and cultures, along with their myths, legends and heros? The positive social and financial potential would benefit all, inclusively.
Read the full report here: Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories That Shape America
Update: Related Reading:
“Geniuses Hiding in Plain Sight”: Tayari Jones on How the Academy Can Reinforce Inequality