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Hollywood Writers Still Lack Diversity

Despite gains since 1998, women and minorities continue to lag behind white male counterparts in jobs and pay, an industry study shows.

October 12, 2005|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Despite steady but modest gains over the last seven years, women and minority writers still lag behind their white male counterparts in jobs and pay for film and TV work, according to an industry study to be released today.

The study by the Writers Guild of America, West, found that minorities accounted for about 10% of the 3,015 employed television writers in 2004, while women made up 27% -- even though those groups represented more than 30% and 50% of the population, respectively.

In film, women represented 18% of the 1,770 employed film writers in 2004, while all minority groups combined accounted for just 6% of the total, virtually unchanged since 1998.

"You still have an industry that is dominated by white male writers," said UCLA sociology professor Darnell Hunt, the report's author and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. "Women and minorities have made very minimal gains."

Titled "Catching Up With a Changing America?," the 94-page report marks the Writers Guild's most comprehensive analysis of its employment trends since a 1998 study found similar disparities. That report was credited with putting pressure on studios, production companies and networks to improve diversity efforts.

But William Bielby, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who coauthored the previous report, said pressure on studios and producers had slackened in recent years. That, he said, has allowed an insular culture -- where hiring is based on informal relationships and writers are often typecast -- to thrive.

"There's been virtually no change in how business is conducted in the industry," Bielby said.

Todd Boyd, a professor at the USC School of Cinema-Television, said the guild's findings mirrored a "particular culture and until that culture is changed, you're not going to see any drastic changes in overall representation."

The latest findings are likely to provide ammunition to groups such as the NAACP and others that have been sharply critical of Hollywood's relative lack of minority writers, producers and directors.

Based on employment data supplied by the guild's members, the study cites some gains. For example, the minority share of television writers increased from 7% to just under 10% between 1998 and 2004.

However, much of the employment gains came in African American situation comedies such as those appearing on Viacom Inc.'s UPN, suggesting possible typecasting, Hunt said.

The study also found women writers' share of TV employment also rose slightly, from 23% in 1998 to about 25% in 2005.

Although both minority and women writers saw income gains, the study found that the income gap with white male writers had widened since 1998. Then, the median annual income for white male TV writers was about $8,500 more than the median income for minority TV writers. By 2004, the gap had grown to nearly $18,000. The study also found that women TV writers nearly closed the gap with men in 2002, but the difference increased to $12,000 in 2004.

The study portrayed a mixed employment picture for older writers. Although the share of television employment for writers 51 to 60 years old increased more than any other age group, younger writers gained a greater percentage of film writing jobs. In TV, older writers lost income, but in film they enjoyed the highest median income of any age group.

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