New Study Finds That Only 4.8% of TV Writers Are Black

A new study by a UCLA professor has resulted in some stunning proof that television still has a long, long way to go when it comes to diverse voices behind the camera. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the racial justice organization Color of Change has commissioned UCLA’s Darnell Hunt – who serves as dean of social sciences as well as professor of sociology and African American Studies – to examine 234 scripted shows (3,817 writers total) from the 2016-2017 season across 18 broadcast, cable, and streaming networks, and in his study Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories That Shape America, Hunt found that the networks’ lack of black writers and showrunners has a direct impact not just on how black characters and stories are portrayed onscreen, but on black writers’ ability to climb the ladder to positions of power within the industry.

Some highlighted findings from Hunt’s study from the shows he examined:

  • 91% of the showrunners are white
  • 5.1% of the showrunners are black
  • 3.9% of the showrunners are other POC
  • 80% of the showrunners are men
  • 86% of the writers are white
  • 4.8% of the writers are black
  • 65.4% of the shows have no black writers
  • 69.1% of shows with white showrunners have no black writers
  • 100% of shows with black showrunners have multiple white writers
  • 66.6% of shows with black showrunners have 5 or more black writers
  • AMC, TBS, and TNT have no women showrunners and no POC showrunners
  • AMC, Showtime, and TBS shows have 0 or 1 black writer total
  • 92% of CBS shows have 0 or 1 black writer
  • there is no black writer working on any Hulu show
  • The study also argues that shows using so-called “diversity slots” to hire black writers is a failed approach, since the writers are often passed over for staff jobs later when another “cheaper” diversity hire can take their place instead. The study refers to this approach by white showrunners’ as “temporary ‘window dressing’ to mask what would otherwise be racially homogenous rooms.” Here’s an excerpt:

    Many previous efforts, mild at best, were nonetheless doomed to fail in changing incentives. According to this report, the “diversity slot” hire program itself appears to have created a perverse disincentive to true inclusion, whereby showrunners give the appearance of inclusion by cycling through people of color writers for the year or two they get them “free of charge,” and then disposing of them once they require a real budget to support (in favor of another, junior “free” writer). And that limits the ability of any critical mass of writers of color to build seniority over time, which is so important for building influence in writers’ rooms.

    Read the full report here.

    New Study Finds That Only 4.8% of TV Writers Are Black