Over the past few years, Hollywood has come under fire for its continued exclusion of women and racial minorities, both in front of and behind the camera. With controversies surrounding the perpetual whiteness of Oscars nominees to disappointing statistics coming out of the annual Hollywood Diversity Report, there is a renewed conversation about the lack of diversity in the media we consume. However, a new report finds that television showrunners and writers are still mostly white, which has important consequences for the ways people of color are represented in the shows we watch.
The report finds that less than 10% of the 234 major series studied were led by minority showrunners, and only 14% of writers for these shows were members of a minority group. The Washington Post talked to Darnell Hunt, author of the report and co-author of the annual Hollywood Diversity Report, who explained that this lack of diversity in the writers’ room leads to unequal and inaccurate representations of racial minorities on the screen. Hunt said,
“White men dominate the major positions, and people of color and women have a long way to go to attain any type of equity … We need to change that because television is not just entertainment. Media images do matter, particularly for people who don’t have a lot of face-to-face encounters with people who are not like them. A lot of what they learn about people is what they see in these images.”
Hunt explains that shows led by black showrunners, like FX’s “Atlanta,” and shows with a diverse writing room are more likely to acknowledge racial inequality, whereas predominantly white writers’ rooms more often portray minority characters as one-dimensional “sidekicks.” An especially troubling example from the report concerns depictions of the criminal justice system. The article explains,
“None of the [crime-drama] episodes acknowledged the systemic racial profiling of black Americans, that black people are more likely to be pressured into plea bargaining for crimes they did not commit, or that they routinely face harsher penalties than whites for committing the same crimes … [These] depictions of policing and the court and prison systems, combined with viewers’ existing biases, undermine public support for policies that could help advance racial equity in American society.”
In short, when people of color are left out of the writers room, their stories are left out too.