Writers’ Guild Strike is Battling for Diversity in Hollywood

Jireh Deng

When Caroline Renard moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, she had zero connections to Hollywood. But she was determined all the same to break into the industry and did all sorts of side gigs — from working at Veggie Grill to driving for DoorDash and Lyft to babysitting — all to pay the bills while she worked on her craft. 

And that hard work eventually paid off.

She moved up from production assistant on set to an executive assistant at Disney before becoming a writer’s and showrunner’s assistant until she became a staff writer on a show. But throughout that decade breaking into Hollywood, she oftentimes noticed she was one of the few or only Black women in the room.

She credits mentors and great bosses for championing her work, but she frequently felt like it was a battle just to be heard as a creator of color. 

Today, Renard is a writer on Disney’s Secrets of Sulphur Springs and a union captain with the Writers Guild of America.

But the golden era of streaming has officially burst — she was one of more than 11,500 writers and others who went on strike May 2 after their current contract expired and negotiations fell through with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which represents the nine largest Hollywood studios).

While diversity is growing in Hollywood, people of color, especially Latinx creators, are still underrepresented, according to an annual Hollywood Diversity Report published each year by UCLA that disaggregates representation in Hollywood by race. 

“Though people of color were approaching proportionate representation among cable and digital scripted leads, cable episodes directed, and credited cable writers, they remained underrepresented on every industry employment front during the 2020-21 television season,” according to the report.

As Renard explains to In These Times, it’s not just the general lack of representation, but the lack of compensation that can serve as a barrier to writers of color and those without economic means to persist in this industry. That’s why the WGA’s demand for higher wages is so important to Renard and many of the other writers of color In These Times spoke to for this piece.

During the pandemic, digital entertainment profits boomed, as global subscribership passed the one billion mark. But writers haven’t participated in the wealth that has flushed studio executives, investors and hedge fund markets. 

According to the WGA, nearly half of all writers are working at the minimum, up from 33% a decade ago, and their median income adjusted for inflation has fallen in that same period by 23%.

Meanwhile, studio executives like Netflix’s Greg Peters and Ted Sarandos had pay packages amounting to $28.1 million and $50.3 million in 2022, while Disney’s Bob Chapek saw his compensation double to $32.5 million in 2021 and Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav benefits and salary totaled $39.3 million for 2022.

Without fair pay and investment in diverse new talent, Renard says the industry will continue to marginalize diverse voices.

“If we want more Quintas and more Issas and more Barry Jenkins and more Ryan Cooglers of the world. We need to pay people that work,” Renard emphasizes, referring to Quinta Brunson of Abbott Elementary, Issa Rae of Insecure, Barry Jenkins of Moonlight and Ryan Coogler of Black Panther.

“All those people are not going to happen because they’re not going to be able to afford to stay here to do the job and do the art,” Renard says.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on May 11, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Jireh Deng (they/them) is a queer Asian American writer and filmmaker in the San Gabriel Valley. They co-direct the Asian American Journalists Association LGBTQIA+ affinity group and serve as a national board representative for its L.A. chapter.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ pages about discrimination and unions.

The post Writers’ Guild Strike is Battling for Diversity in Hollywood first appeared on Today’s Workplace.

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