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Striking Black writers fear a contraction is coming

Jevon Phillips, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — As co-chair of the Writers Guild of America West's Committee of Black Writers, Hilliard Guess mentors young writers and first-time scribes as they navigate Hollywood.

"Sometimes I meet these writers out on the picket lines and walk with them and talk them through how to survive," says Guess. "And when we come out of this, it's going to be better for them, better than it was for me and all of us coming up."

But many of these writers, who joined writing staffs in 2023 only to have their dreams delayed, aren't convinced. They are "scared to death" about what their future will look like after the writers' strike ends, Guess said. The guild and the major Hollywood studios reached a tentative deal over the weekend, with a vote set for Tuesday.

"I think a lot of people aren't going to be coming back to the jobs that they had before this went down," says Guess.

That sense of uneasiness is widely shared among Black writers. Like most WGA members, many remain supportive of the strike, but they also fear there will be a contraction of projects that will disproportionately affect them once Hollywood gets back to work.

"You were already seeing something that felt like a trend within the business, which was some of the diverse projects either not moving forward when they should have, or being canceled when they shouldn't have," says Ben Watkins, WGA member and executive producer, writer and showrunner behind the TV series "Hand of God" and "Cross," an upcoming TV series based on James Patterson's Alex Cross novels.

 

"There's a track record of when there are disruptions within the industry and the industry starts to figure out who they are again — that writers of color and diversity-driven projects seem to disproportionately suffer," Watkins adds.

Even before the strikes began, Hollywood seemed to be retreating from commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion, as evidenced by the cancellation of diverse shows and the fact that several top-level DEI executives have been unceremoniously laid off at major studios.

After the murder of George Floyd, Guess and his colleagues published an open letter to Hollywood demanding that studios and producers be held accountable for their public pledges to diversify hiring and content.

"What I want(ed) to see is in three years, are we in that same cycle? To be honest, from what I've seen now three years later, they started letting go all of the DEI people," says Guess. "That's a clear sign that we're the first to go."

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