Race in the Writers' Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories that Shape America

Race in the Writers' Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories that Shape America

In a big leap forward to change the rules of Hollywood, Color of Change, an Unbound grantee, commissioned and has now released a first-of-its kind report, Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories that Shape America, authored by Darnell Hunt at UCLA. 

This study considered 1,678 first-run episodes from all 234 of the original, scripted comedy and drama series airing or streaming on 18 broadcast, cable, and digital platforms during the 2016-17 television season.

The report demonstrates that the executives running television platforms today—both traditional networks and emerging streaming sites—are not hiring Black showrunners, which results in excluding or isolating Black writers in writers' rooms and in the creative process. Over 90% of showrunners are white, two-thirds of shows had no Black writers at all, and another 17% of shows had just one Black writer. The ultimate result of this exclusion is the widespread reliance on Black stereotypes to drive Black character portrayals, where Black characters even exist at all—at best, “cardboard” characters, at worst, unfair, inaccurate and dehumanizing portrayals.

Many other studies have shown how dangerous inaccurate portrayals can be—resulting in warped perceptions about Black people and Black communities that perversely inform the decisions of doctors, teachers, voters, police, judges and more.

The report also highlights a pattern of excluding women and people of color in hiring showrunners and writers, and clearly suggests that current industry “diversity” programs are not working to either create success tracks for talented people of color in the industry, or create the range of authentic representations and stories on television that we need to sustain a healthy society.