Diversity In Screenwriting


It is no secret that the majority of film and television screens are still filled with white actors and most screenplays are still penned by white, middle-class males. Is this dominant mono-culture as large an issue as claimed by various diversity pundits?

Workplace diversity is broadly defined in terms of gender, race, cultural background, sexual orientation, education, religion, disabilities and socio-economic status.

I’m delving into complex sociological issues here, but having a narrow cultural band of writers is harmful, not only to the film and television industry, but to all workplaces.

Every person from all backgrounds watches film and TV shows. Every person deserves respect. But is a “diverse” writer the right choice in every situation? Probably not.

Given the changing demographics of audiences, there is a strong argument to allow them the chance to tell their stories, see familiar faces and hear familiar voices on screen.

Hiring diverse writers not only broadens the cultural and thematic tapestry of film and TV productions, it also adds authenticity. It ostensibly makes sense to hire a WASP to write uptight, polite dialogue for a character from New England. Or a Texan oil baron. However, this mentality can create character stereotypes. Will this conceivably authentic dialogue always generate better stories? Maybe not.

Can a white man from the North write believable dialogue for a Latina in the South? Sure, if he’s spent enough time in that community and can capture her voice.  A white man might also infuse the Latina’s dialogue with his own voice to create unique dialogue.

Oftentimes, the term “diversity” can carry a stigma. Diversity hires are sometimes perceived as lesser writers that must be hired to satisfy a well-meaning government or guild mandate. There are grants, tax breaks and other fiscal benefits associated with diversity hires.

So what’s the deal with diversity programs in Hollywood? The WGA and DGA certainly have them. Do they work? Is it enough to simply add a member of each diverse community to a writers room and declare the job done?

It all depends on whether each diverse writer brings a unique worldview and voice to the table. Diversity is more than ticking checkboxes. It is about enriching the story. There is little point in hiring  white, black and Asian female writers on the same TV show who all grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same college and have the same outlook on life.

Given that the the fresh voices breaking through the clutter of mainstream film and TV are the key to the survival of our industry, we need to look at the life experiences of writers more than the factors typically associated with workplace diversity.

I’ve spoken to many “diversity” hires in the entertainment industry and such programs are both a blessing and a curse. This is because diversity writers sometimes don’t extend beyond political correctness.

Sometimes excessive diversity can backfire in screenwriting, especially in TV writers room or development meetings.

Problems arise when the “diversity” overtakes the servicing of a story. It is essential that every screenwriter is working on the same project. This is more than every writer wanting an input or to add their own particular flavor and tone to a screenplay.

A film producer or TV show runner must very clearly set the parameters of a script. Then, each writer can express their individuality within those parameters. Otherwise you end up with a disjointed, incoherent mess of a script.

Do diversity targets work?

Does stipulating that at least 50% of a TV show’s writers having to be female create a better story? Well, if everyone is riding in the same story train, the answer is yes if they are used correctly.

Given that humans are traveling more, living away from their birth places, marrying into other races, it is essential that we embrace diversity to ensure the evolution and survival of our stories.

 

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