The Writers Guild of America West has issued an open letter from its committee of black writers, the first time the guild has released a statement specifically from one of its committees, that calls on Hollywood and the studios to do more than just issue statements of support and actually prioritize the hiring of black writers.
The three-page letter penned by WGAW Committee of Black Writers co-chairs Michelle Amor, Hilliard Guess and vice chair of the committee Bianca Sams invokes “The Birth of a Nation” as a symbol of generations of oppression in Hollywood and cites a 2020 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report that says black writers received only 5.6% of all the writing jobs among 2019 films.
“Some have tried to blame this on a shortage of Black writers, yet there are at least 808 self-identified Black writers in the Guild; we have been here, ready to work,” the letter reads. “We need to revolutionize the way our industry hires writers. When companies and studios claim to champion diversity but refuse to prioritize hiring Black writers for a writers’ room or to contribute to Black narratives, you are perpetuating a system that either exploits or excludes Black experience and perspective.”
The letter demands that studios adhere to their statements of support for black voices and abolish the practice of hiring writers from very exclusive lists, saying that too often black writers are considered unable to write for the mainstream, but white writers are all too frequently called upon to tell black narratives.
“If you only hire other white people you know, you are enabling the spread of unconscious bias and racial inequity in Hollywood. If you don’t know any Black writers, expand your circle,” the letter says. “Your unwillingness to know and work with Black people is part of your unwillingness to humanize us as your equals. This mentality may be subtle in one context, and have the potential to be fatal for us in the next.”
The letter name drops the many studios that have put out statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death, but the committee says they’ll be watching closely at the actions Hollywood takes beyond their statements.
“Hollywood, what you do next is paramount. As the most powerful entertainment industry in the world, we challenge you, the powers that be, those individuals with unmistakable privilege, the elite executives who gave the ok on those statements, to begin instituting real systemic change,” the letter concludes. “Basically, either you commit to a new, institutionalized system of accountability with and to Black writers, or you prove that you’re putting on just another strategic, virtue-signaling performance deemed necessary to survive the times. But you won’t be able to survive without the radical inclusion of Black writers and artists on your sets and in your studios.”
The full text of the letter is attached here.