Writers Are the Heart of Hollywood and Media. So Why Aren't They Being Treated Like It?

General views of the Writers Guild of America West on December 02, 2020 in Hollywood, California.
General views of the Writers Guild of America West on December 02, 2020 in Hollywood, California.

Monday, May 1, may end up being another monumental day in Hollywood if negotiations aren’t agreed upon between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA)—the labor union most working writers in the industry belong to.

Writers in Hollywood Are Fighting for Their Livelihoods

Per Variety, last month, the two entities came to the table in the hopes that new terms ahead of their new three-year-long contract could be ironed out. Those terms include a significant increase in minimum compensation, ways to address abuse of mini writers rooms, the regulation of materials produced by AI, a better process for streaming residuals and more. But as of this article’s writing, no such terms have been reached and the WGA union members have authorized a strike to take place if there is no forward movement before the May deadline.

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If that happens, what that means is that members will be “barred from writing, pitching or negotiating for work”; and while members who are showrunners, producers, performers, or directors are still legally allowed to work, they must not “perform any writing services.” This also means production on some current projects may be slowed, development on newer projects all but halted, and the exchange of new ideas and pitches for potential projects will be virtually nonexistent—at least for the time being. The increasing possibility of this strike understandably invokes fear for some Hollywood studios and companies, but perhaps more importantly for Black writers, and below-the-line workers who will no doubt be impacted—as they’re already working at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to better opportunities, fair wages and compensation and access.

Writers in Media Are Fighting for Their Livelihoods, Too

On the other side of the coin, it should also be noted that this impending Hollywood strike is happening at the same time writers in the media space are being forced out in an effort to “cut costs and save money.”

In the four months since 2023 began, over 20 major companies have laid off entire staffs and shuttered teams that have produced ground-breaking, award-winning work. Those companies include but are not limited to: NPR, WNYC, NEPM, ABC News, Washington Post, Vox, Buzzfeed, Insider, Complex, gal-dem, ESPN, Paper Magazine, Vice, Fandom, Gannett, NBC News, MSNBC, E.W.Scripps, CNET and NewsCorp.

Not only is this a blow to the world of media and journalism (the latter of which is in a precarious predicament given the alarming rise in online misinformation), but it’s also a gut punch to the hundreds of people who have contributed acclaimed work and have now been sorely reminded that their years of commitment are only worth short emails and severance packages—if they’re lucky enough to be protected by a union. If they’re not, they’ll be forced to live off their savings or dive back into the unsteady waters of freelancing, which, in this economy, is a huge gamble as pay rates are on the decline while inflation and the costs of living continue to soar.

For Black folks specifically, it’s also yet another discouraging part of reality to face in an environment where it takes a longer and harder time for our services to get rendered as freelancers and to get hired in a full-time capacity despite various company’s talks of wanting “more diverse voices.” These sad facts are especially egregious when you consider that Black people only account for six percent of all reporting journalists in the United States, according to a recent report released by the Pew Research Center. For Black writers in Hollywood, the numbers aren’t that much better there either, as they only accounted for 15.5 percent of TV series writing jobs, 6.9 percent of the screenwriting jobs, and 9.7 percent of the development/pilot writers in 2020.

Sadly, I’m Not Exempt From This Fight

Over five years ago, I began my journey as a freelance Entertainment Writer.

Since I began, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to chat with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, attend some of the industry’s most celebrated and revered events, and connect with people both in front of and behind the camera, studios, PR companies and media to develop relationships and friendships that I will cherish for years to come. I’ve also written work that I’m proud of and work that has garnered both industry-wide and national attention. I am a writer who absolutely loves what I do.

However, I am also a writer that’s acutely aware of the privileged space I’ve been occupying in, in so much as I’ve been able to continue making a living and create a name for myself even without the security of a full-time position. But to be clear, I didn’t make all my money from writing nor did I maintain my livelihood without help. For a long period of time, I had help from my Mother and occasionally from friends when they knew I was in a bind. I also worked retail, office jobs, and others to help bring income in when freelancing became slow, pitches weren’t being accepted, emails were going unanswered and pay was delayed. And it’s because of this experience, that I know for a fact the current landscape in media and entertainment where writers are struggling to take care of basic necessities, get fair pay, and attain financial security is an abysmal trend that will only continue to hurt us all instead of help if it continues.

Writers Are Necessary Now More Than Ever

I don’t know how to say this politely, so I’ll just put it plainly: writers are the backbone of Hollywood and media.

Without writers, you don’t get the Pulitzer Prize for reporting. Without writers, you don’t get Emmys for shows. Without writers, you don’t get Oscars for films. Without writers, you don’t get Tonys for plays. Without writers, you don’t get Grammys for music. Without writers, you don’t get Shorty awards for marketing and advertising. Without writers, you don’t get Webby awards for podcasts. Without writers, you don’t get your favorite jokes on late-night TV. Without writers, you don’t get the funniest skits on late-night sketch comedy shows. Without writers, you don’t get good segments on daytime talk shows. Without writers, you don’t get your favorite scenes from your favorite movies and series. Without writers, you don’t get your favorite column in the paper or in magazines, digital or print. Without writers, you don’t get well-rounded information and pertinent knowledge shared to the masses.

Without writers, there is no Washington Post, Buzzfeed News, Complex, Vice News, Gannett, MSNBC, NBC News, ABC News, ESPN, Paper Magazine, Insider, Vox. Without writers, you don’t get high-streaming, highly popular shows and movies—because there’s no one around to write them. Without writers, you don’t get publications that become premier destinations for audiences—because there’s no one around to write the stories they care about. Without writers, you don’t even get the commercials that play in between or the ads that live on websites—because somebody had to write and conceptualize those too.

Without writers, you just don’t get any of that.

Writers are the heart of Hollywood and media and it’s about damn time they—we—get treated as such.

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