Monday, May 13, 2013

Television: In Black and White

A new Writers Guild of America report on women and minorities in television offers some encouraging news. In the past 12 years, for example, the number of minority writers has roughly doubled moving from 7.5% of all writing jobs to 15.6%. The biggest increases were in the number  of Asian-American and Latino writers, especially those working in "multicultural dramas."

Similarly, the number of women writers has risen from 25-30% over the past decade, promising, perhaps, but still far less than the 50+% of the population women actually represent. Perhaps this is why, the authors of the report had considered subtitling the report “Pockets of Promise, Minimal Progress.” Overall, the numbers look better—more representative of what our country looks like—but are these numbers truly encouraging?

Is there reason to be optimistic? Let's look closer at some of the numbers: "only 9% of pilots had at least one minority writer attached [to their writing staff] and just 24% of pilots had at least one woman attached, according to the report." Shockingly low, no?

Here is a recent picture (see right) of a panel of Emmy nominated writers. Ask yourself who is represented? Who is not?

And the numbers are even more stark when you behind the camera. According to Think Progress, in an article called "TV Directors get Whiter and More Male," the percentage of episodes of television in the 2011-2012 television season directed by white men rose from 72 percent to 73 percent. White women directed 11 percent of episodes, the same as last year. And women of color and men of color basically traded work: men of color directed 13 percent of episodes, down from 14 percent last year."

With a disproportionately high percentage of white writers and directors, it perhaps not surprising that news for actors of color is similarly frustrating. Among actors on TV there had been reason to hope in 1998 when Andre Braugher took home a leading-actor Emmy in 1998 for his work on "Homicide: Life on the Street," becoming only the third black actor to win in that category (Bill Cosby and James Earl Jones got there first). But in the last 14 years, there has been only one minority nominee: Braugher again, for the swiftly canceled ABC medical drama, "Gideon's Crossing."

17 comments:

Molly Klare said...

Many do consider America to be a progressive country. However, I don't think these changes are reason to be optimistic. These changes made me think of the changes in support for gay marriage, as now over 81% of people under 30 support gay marriage in contrast to 2004 when only than 32% of people supported it. However, gay marriage is still illegal in the federal government and only 10 states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. So what may seem like hope for minorities such as women, African Americans, and homosexuals, is really nothing to be proud of. While support is growing, things are not changing-gay marriage is still illegal and women and African American writers and directors are rare.

Lily Schroeder said...

Though the numbers rise slowly, I am optimistic about the future of women and minorities in screenwriting and production; it will just take time. Many industries, clearly television writing being one, may be slower to change and more insulated because they have been more established and around longer. Take for instance the policies of the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia where the Masters is played. The club admitted its first black members in 1990. Before then, a former policy stressed that all caddies be black. They didn’t admit female members until August 2012. Though it is still mostly white men, it’s a step-by-step process that takes longer to change.

In addition, we see a much more diverse population, compared to the writers in the picture, in newer, younger industries. These industries, such as technology, are less established; therefore, they have fewer barriers.

tally ford said...
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tally ford said...

It is very interesting to me that although the Writers Guild of America has reported an encouraging rise in the amount of minority writer in television, it is not as promising as it seems. I believe that the report from the Writers Guild of America is an example of how we, the United States, always believe that we are moving forward and progressing. However, the report fails to include statistics regarding the percentage of minorities and women directing episodes of television, perhaps because we, the United States, cannot accept that we are not progressing and moving forward in creating equality throughout the US with race and gender.

Maddy B said...

I agree with Molly that these stats definitely do not look promising. We have talked in class about the "token" characters in television shows but where are the minorities behind the camera? This leads me to believe that television shows do not actually care about diversity unless the audience actually sees it. The large amounts of white male directors and writers are hidden behind the minority characters they write/put into their shows.
On the show 30 Rock there is a character named "Toofer" and he is a black man who works as a writer for a TV show. He is called Toofer because you get "two for one" with him due to the fact he is smart and a minority. This character seems so ironic to me now because all the writers of 30 Rock are white! The writers have written this non existent character and have hid behind him. If the lack of minorities behind the screens continues to go unnoticed then there is not a bright future for the writers and directors who are not white males.

Zach Peltz said...
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Noah Quinn said...

I think it is extremely concerning that there aren't more women writers. Two of my favorite actors/writers are women: Kirsten Wiig, and Amy Poehler. Not only are they women but they are hegemonic comedic powers with tremendous success from shows like SNL to writing uproariously funny movies such as Bridesmaids (Wiig), and the popular show Parks and Recreation (Poehler). The fact that people actually believe that women aren't as funny as men (with "studies" to prove it) is laughable within it self. According to AskMen.Com "A study done by the University of Mexico wasn’t kidding when it concluded that “humor ability” is higher in men than it is women. This preconceived notion that men should take the lead (as writers, producers, and directors) is concerning to me and counter productive to the entirety of the industry in my opinion. Look at that photo in Doc Oc's post and not only will you find an under representation of women but also people of color. The trends may be changing, but not enough as mentioned in earlier comments.





Read more: http://www.askmen.com/dating/curtsmith_500/594_why-women-arent-funny.html#ixzz2TGnmQvi1I

Colin M said...

I agree with the majority that the statistics may be promising in the long term, but should not be a source of pride. What also interested me was the phrase: "working in 'multicultural dramas'".

I think that the concentration of minorities in "multicultural dramas" is another discouraging sign because it means that minorities are still not receiving equal opportunities. Instead they are only being employed in areas where they might be knowledgeable or able to relate to. In my opinion, this negates the doubling of minority writers because they are still not writers for "regular" tv shows.

Similar to TV Tokenism, I think this increase in minority writers is the television industry's equivalent of casting a "token minority character" in the sense that minorities still have roles in the television industry, just not the prestigious or important ones.

Aj Watkins said...

I think that these stats are mildly promising in the sense that there is progress, but it seems like the progress is extremely slow and minute. On that note, I disagree with Colin's analysis of the term "multicultural drama". I think that the term itself is promising - it provides the opportunity for those of a minority race to be a part of shows that have been comprised of white actors and writers in the past. Though they are not necessarily receiving equal opportunities yet, it is a step forward. Those steps, however, are merely baby steps, so we should be cautious to think we are progressing at a fast rate.

Nicole Popowski said...

I agree with AJ on the "multicultural drama" analysis. It is definitely a step forward especially because T.V. shows were usually only comprised of white cast members in earlier years. And just to reiterate what Colin said, I also believe that the slight increase in female and minority writers is the same as casting a "token minority" character in a T.V. show. Even though there is more representation, they are not necessarily getting the attention they deserve, as the panel of Emmy nominated writers are all white and most of them are men.

In addition, I think it is especially concerning that the percent of episodes of television directed by white men rose from "72 percent to 73 percent." If we were truly making progress, this number would surely decrease, instead of going up. The continuous problem is that the people in charge, the heads of networks and major projects in television, are white men. And although there has been more representation for other ethnicities and women, white males still dominate behind the camera. Especially since I'm talking about directors- who hire everyone else for their projects and typically call the shots. We will most likely see more changes once women and people of other ethnicities have more opportunities to direct T.V. shows.

Alexis B said...

I don't think these statistics are encouraging. As Mr. O'C pointed out, over 50% of the population is women, yet they only represent 30% of the screenwriters. According to BlackDemographics.com, the percentage of the population that was black in 2011 was 14.1%. As Mr. O'C says, "men of color directed 13 percent of episodes, down from 14 percent last year," and only 9% of pilots had a minority writer. As in the case of on screen TV tokenism, these behind the scenes numbers show that America is not progressing when in comes to minorities in television. This lack of progress is discouraging and goes against the American mindset that we must always be improving.

Heidi Blumenthal said...

This is similar to my Junior Theme topic in the sense that part of the issue is about women not being in leadership roles such as a directors and writers. And many of the comments above are exactly correct according to my research. As Nicole said, women are not in these leadership roles because there are men at the top who are doing the hiring. And these men are at an advantage because in a sense they are only competing against half of the population, only the men. But how can we overcome this? Admittedly, progress has been incredibly slow. Change is always difficult. But if women begin to break through their "glass ceilings" and societal generalizations, men will begin to realize that their great talents. In fact, there have been studies that have shown that public companies with women on their boards perform better than those that are all male. Women need to work significantly harder than men, while still attempting to act "feminine" and not competitive. In addition, Sheryl Sandberg would say that for true change to occur, men need to be supportive of the women in their lives as they attempt to break through the "glass ceiling".

Derek Hawley said...

I find these statistics hopeful, but less encouraging then I would like. On the one hand, as Doc Oc and others have mentioned, both minority and female writers are below the levels we would expect to see in certain positions, given their respective percentages in society. On the other hand, Rome wasn't built in a day, or even a year. Progress is progress, and lower levels of progress merely mean it will take a little longer to get where we're going. The third hand, and the (in my opinion) dominant fact is that this issue is more complicated than it looks on the surface. It's not just that networks are hiring whiter and maler - due to inequalities in socioeconomic status and therefore education, it would not surprise me to learn that, through no fault of their own, there is a lack of people in minority groups that are qualified to be writers. Like many of the inequality-focused posts we have seen this year, the (stereo)typical response of "ohmygod we have to go hire some minorities!" that people tend to jump to just isn't the solution. You can't have a balanced outcome without a balanced input.

Rachel Hoying said...

I agree as well, that while there is some optimism to be had from these statistics, we still have a long way to go. I think however these stats do model however, the spiral model of progress that we talked about in class. The same issues keep cycling around, and we continue to face the same issues, but each time we face the issue again, a small amount of progress has been made. I think that in order to get much better, we will just have to make small steps in order to reach the goal of having equal representation in screenwriting, for example. But with each time the issue spirals around, progress can be made.

Sarah Henzlik said...

I think there is reason to be optimistic for the future in the writing and directing world for women and minorities. While the increases in acceptance are not skyrocketing, I think it is a positive sign that the number are not declining. I find the picture included very interesting. In the nine people pictured, two are Caucasian women and the rest are Caucasian men. Clearly these demographics are depicted, however, no minorities are pictured, which means at this point, no minority writers had been Emmy-nominated at this point. I agree with Noah's point that women and minorities are some of the best writers around, yet as a whole have yet to break through to become as mainstream and widespread as Caucasian men.

Natalie Boudos said...

I agree with much of what Rachel said. We have been looking at cycles in class and the data does seem to have a cyclical nature. When progress is made it seems very small and almost insignificant, however it is progress. So I think this data might beg the even greater question, is the small amount of cyclical progress enough progress to actually deem progress? Looking at the picture associated with the blog post, there are women represented and I would bet that even having two women is progress to some degree. But is that enough progress for the rights of women or women representation? Maybe not.

One more thing to add, as a little bit of a devil's advocate to my own point, is on credentials. While Noah did cite two very very funny women, maybe only men were qualified. Although the chances are slim, I think it is equally important to consider that option because when trying to be fair to women you don't want to be unfair to more deserving men.

Kim Cole said...

This reminds me of a Pew Study I read yesterday. The study states that 40% of all households with children have mothers are the highest source of income. This sounds very good compared to 11% in 1960, but the study later shows that there are two groups within this gap who have a huge gap in between them.

There are married mothers who out-earn their husbands and single mothers who have no choice but to be the breadwinner of the family. Not only do the married mothers make far more than the single mothers, but they are generally white and college educated. On the other hand, single mothers tend to be African American or Hispanic, younger, and far less likely to have a college degree. (source: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/29/breadwinner-moms/)

I'm glad that there's SOME progress in both reports. And I'm glad that the Pew study represents both groups of women breadwinners. There is still a massive gap between white people and minorities in both studies. I think that this statistic will improve eventually, but it will take a very long time.