Thursday, December 19, 2013

Black and White TV

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."


Carolyn D. said...

I think it is interesting to look at the representation of minorities and females in the entertainment industry. Especially right after our presentations on TV tokenism, I think that it is important to look at these statistics. When there is a lack of representation of minority writers, then there is a lesser chance that that they will write a show with minority characters. This causes the networks to need to add in "token" characters in order to fill gaps. Without a real motivation to add these characters, writers don't feel the need to expand on these characters. I think that if more minorities were represented as writers then this would change.

Audrey K. said...

I agree with Carolyn. To add onto what she said, the lack of minority characters also affects the audience. If there are less minority characters shown on television, the roles that they portray are that much more of an influence to the viewers. From that, stereotypes about a particular group of people can change.

In the picture you attached, only 2 out of the 9 nominated writers are women, and none of the 9 are minorities. I think that shows of minority writers are not being received as well as the shows of white writers.The writers that are minorities might use more minority characters or have them as the main characters. Because they are making the token characters the center of the shows, the shows are not as popular. If the African American/Latino/Asian characters become the center, that means that whites would become the tokens. Maybe Americans aren't ready for this switch in roles.

Josh Sussman said...

I agree with Carolyn and Audrey in that the lack of minority representation in entertainment is concerning because the lack of diversity means that the audience is less likely to have a well-rounded view of the world. The world simply is not black and white, so having such little representation of people of color and women means that something must be done to show more minorities in main roles on TV and in movies.

Shannon said...

I feel like part of the reason why tokenism exists is because of the lack of diverse writers and directors or the writers and directors are not willing to explore other races and genders when writing their characters. I often feel that women, especially when on a tv show made my male writers, are often just as underdeveloped as minorities. Especially in the token in which we are the character who dies and then the male character seeks revenge.

Jacqui G said...

I agree with Audrey when she said that Americans just aren't ready for a change like this. After all, The Soiling of Old Glory took place a little over 37 years ago, and in it we see that blacks are definitely not seen as equal by the whites. Although we want blacks and whites to be completely equal in the TV/movie world, something like that can't just happen in 37 years.

Serious improvements have been made and it is now acceptable when African-Americans have major roles in TV shows or movies. I'm sure many people know the show "Scandal" because it is the first network drama with an African-American lead in almost 40 years. I would say that barriers are definitely being broken, and although everyone SHOULD be equal, we can't expect everything to be perfect in this short amount of time.