Giving Compass' Take:
- Chabeli Carrazana explains that marginalized writers - women, people of color, and people with disabilities - are most impacted by the changes streaming has made to the writing profession.
- How can you support strikes and other collective bargaining strategies and tactics to protect marginalized workers? How can you help to ensure diverse writers and stories in Hollywood and beyond?
- Learn how workers' rights nonprofits move the needle.
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When Kyra Jones wrote for the ABC broadcast show “Queens,” she collected a $14,000 residuals check that helped her get through the months after the project ended and she was without work. Then last summer, she got her first residuals check for writing on the Hulu streaming show “Woke.”
It was $4.
The rapid evolution of the television industry model, with the meteoric rise of streaming and the cost-cutting measures that have become industry norms, have transformed TV in just a few short years. Writers say their wages and protections on the job have not kept pace. It’s that tension that has sent more than 11,500 writers into the streets across the country on a strike that began earlier this month and is expected to go on for weeks, halting production on some of the biggest shows on TV.
Their fight for better pay and consistency on the job is one that could define what pathways — if any — remain for writers who can’t afford to go months without pay and also can’t afford smaller residual checks. Women, women of color and LGBTQ+ people have the least access to writing jobs, and the financial precarity of the work could mean they have to leave the industry altogether.
“One of the reasons that the industry has been dominated by White men is they are the ones with the generational wealth and the privilege,” Jones said.
The sheer volume of shows has risen in recent years because of opportunities created through streaming. But that hasn’t necessarily translated to more opportunity: The shift in streaming has also led to the proliferation of mini-rooms, smaller writers rooms that marginalized writers say shut them out of opportunities, limit pathways to higher-paying jobs, shrink pay and shorten how much time writers even spend on projects.
Up until now, the share of underrepresented writers has been growing in the industry: Women make up about 45 percent of all TV series writers, people of color make up 37 percent, women of color are 21 percent and LGBTQ+ people are nearly 12 percent, according to the Writers Guild of America’s 2022 equity and inclusion report. But there is still ample room for improvement. Writers with disabilities are only about 2 percent of TV series writers, and women and people of color are underrepresented as a share of the population.
Marginalized writers are also getting stuck in lower-paid writing jobs. In 2020, nearly 60 percent of showrunners — TV shows’ CEOs — were White men. Women of color made up just 7 percent of showrunners, but they were overrepresented as staff writers, the lowest level. At that level, 37 percent of writers were women of color in 2020, compared with 17 percent who were White men.
Because TV has changed so rapidly, there is no language in writers’ union contracts reflecting the latest streaming reality. And residual payments have changed substantially. It used to be that writers could count on royalty payments whenever shows they wrote on were syndicated and re-run on cable TV. But with streaming, the complex calculation for residuals is completely different and often leads to smaller checks. Writers say there needs to be more transparency and a better process for calculating residuals on streaming shows to ensure they are fairly compensated.
Read the full article about marginalized writers by Chabeli Carrazana at The 19th.