Paramount Pictures has a perception problem on its hands, with many Hollywood insiders disappointed that the studio and its "Transformers" brain trust led by Michael Bay and Akiva Goldsman have hired seven writers to expand the blockbuster franchise, all of whom are white males.
In March, Oscar winner Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind") was hand-picked by his college buddy Bay to incubate ideas for the "Transformers" movie universe and oversee the process of hiring writers and assigning scripts.
On May 20, TheWrap reported that Robert Kirkman ("The Walking Dead"), Zak Penn ("Pacific Rim 2"), Jeff Pinkner ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2") and Art Marcum and Matt Holloway ("Iron Man") were joining a writer's room of sorts that was designed to ramp up output for the "Transformers" series. The announcement raised eyebrows at the time given the lack of diversity amongst the group, but it was understood that more writers would be hired. There was, at the very least, some hope.
One week later, Paramount hired two more writers, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, both of whom are also white males. They've reportedly been asked to script an animated "Transformers" origin story set on Cybertron, though they also plan to write a live-action spinoff as well.
In response to TheWrap's inquiry, a studio spokesperson said Friday, "As its been reported elsewhere, there are others still to be announced that will also join this writers room. The studio does not comment on people's deals before they have closed. However, a suggestion of a lack of diversity will not hold up after they are announced."
Indeed, TheWrap has learned that at least one female writer is nearing a deal to join the writer's room, and while her hiring will help balance the group in terms of gender, there still haven't been any minority writers hired... yet.
One high-level agent who represents writers with a wide range of backgrounds expressed his disappointment to TheWrap about the current group's lack of diversity: "I think it's lame. Basically they hired four guys that are exactly the same, with the same point of view. What's the point?"
Now, white males (like myself) have just as much of a right to earn a living as the next guy. To begrudge any of these writers the color of their skin would simply be reverse-racism.
However, it is concerning that with five opportunities, Goldsman didn't go out of his way to look outside the box, even as complaints multiply about Hollywood's lack of racial and gender diversity.
Granted, summer blockbusters like the "Transformers" spinoffs are mostly written by white males, creating a small, circular pool of writers who have experience working on big-budget tentpoles. But Paramount, Goldsman and Bay whiffed on a major opportunity to broaden the range of voices contributing to the "Transformers" franchise, which includes producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura and executive producer Steven Spielberg.
The most recent film in the franchise, "Transformers: Age of Extinction," grossed more than $1 billion worldwide and was the highest-grossing movie of all-time in China. You'd think, then, that Paramount would consider hiring a Chinese screenwriter or someone of Asian descent for its writers room.
Noted film critic and blogger Jeremy Smith of Ain't It Cool News took similar exception to the lack of diversity, writing, "'Transformers' is a four-quadrant property that appeals to all kinds of people. So if you're doing a top-down overhaul and building out an 'expanded universe,' wouldn't you like to have different kinds of voices with different kinds of experiences in there?"
The idea for a Transformers "writer's room" comes on the heels of James Cameron's similar approach to the "Avatar" sequels at 20th Century Fox. That franchise's brain trust includes Amanda Silver, the female scribe behind "Jurassic World" and Fox's "Planet of the Apes" reboot who co-wrote "Avatar 2" with her writing partner Rick Jaffa and Cameron.
Expanding the "Transformers" universe has been a major priority for Paramount's new Motion Picture Group president Marc Evans, who is expected to ramp up tentpole production and make more movies in general at the studio.
In addition to a potential animated Transformers movie, there have been rumors about a spinoff built around beloved hero Bumblebee. There have also been rumblings in recent years of a crossover between "Transformers" and Paramount's other blockbuster action franchise based on a Hasbro brand, "G.I. Joe," though nothing has come to fruition as yet.
Bay is expecting to read drafts from the "Transformers" writer's room once he wraps production on Paramount's Benghazi siege drama "13 Hours." With that film currently in production, Bay was unavailable to comment on this story, while representatives for Goldsman and di Bonaventura did not immediately respond to requests for comment.