Hollywood screenwriters face their own "OscarsSoWhite" drama - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Hollywood screenwriters face their own "OscarsSoWhite" drama

Posted: Updated:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Screenwriter Alyson Fouse was working on a sequel for the "Bring It On" movie franchise when the studio asked for changes.

"They wanted the black girl to be more ghetto, for want of a better word," Fouse recalled. "I said that's fine, we're doing a cheerleader comedy so stereotypes are what's funny. But I want the other side of that, too. I want a girl who's not ghetto."

The African-American writer was able to create a black teen from a posh private school, a rare victory in an industry that makes scant room for those of color or their perspective. "OscarsSoWhite," the hashtag protest over this year's all-white slate of nominees, is applicable to the original and adapted screenplay categories as well (with "Inside Out" writer Ronnie del Carmen an exception).

"There just isn't a lot of diversity within the core of people who are coming up with stories and developing characters," said Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Hunt also has charted writers' employment for a decade for the Writers Guild of America, West, and sees "very little progress. To the extent there has been progress, it tends to be in front of the camera and very little behind the camera."

That's despite the growing colorization of America, with the transition to a non-white majority predicted within three decades. The expanding TV universe has been more agile in adjusting to the demographic change than movies, with ethnic and gender diversity in shows ranging from CW's "Jane the Virgin" to Netflix's "Orange is the New Black," and awards have followed.

The film academy adopted voting changes that may, in the future, prevent the omission of actors such as Idris Alba, who won a SAG award for "Beasts of No Nation," and Michael B. Jordan, overlooked for "Creed," while Sylvester Stallone earned a supporting actor bid for reviving his Rocky character.

But Oscar-worthy roles start with writers and directors, said Kenya Barris, the creator and executive producer of ABC's groundbreaking African-American family comedy, "black-ish." Barris, who is black, works with a writing staff that's majority non-white and half female.

"The moment we make improvements behind the camera, we'll have more opportunities to step up and have real swings at being noticed — not just for being black, but for being excellent. Not sure for being gay, but for being excellent. Not just for being a woman, but being excellent," Barris said.

Diversity yields studio rewards, too. Movies with casts evenly split between white and non-white actors are more profitable, according to a new Bunche Center study that cites "Lucy," the Morgan Freeman-Scarlett Johansson sci-fi drama that grossed $400 million-plus worldwide, as an example.

"This is not affirmative action. .... More people would buy tickets if you featured people who look like us or reflect modern society," said Daniel Mayeda, co-chair of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.

Mayeda's group is part of an umbrella organization, the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition, that in 2000 called on TV networks to boost minority hiring in all areas and has seen measureable results. This month, the coalition asked major studios including Sony, Warner Bros. and Disney to match that effort, including tracking minority employment and investing in "pipeline" programs leading to jobs.

The writers' guild has its own program to bring women and minority members to the industry's attention, said Tery Lopez, the guild's diversity director. But they fight a "business as usual" attitude that keeps decision-makers returning to the same pool of white male writers, said guild spokesman Neal Sacharow.

"If folks feel they have a successful formula, they will continue to work it," he said.

Alan Yang is an example of what happens when talent, without regard to ethnicity, gets a shot.

He started out writing for "South Park" and then moved to a staff job on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," his salary initially defrayed by a network diversity program. There he became friends with cast member Aziz Ansari, and the two went on to create and produce "Master of None," the critically applauded Netflix comedy starring Ansari.

The result? A show that goes beyond tokenism — the old-school version of diversity that made do with a black judge or doctor in the background — and includes a variety of layered characters.

"I want the representation of everyone whose stories haven't been told as much to be as accurate, as personal, and as truthful as possible," Yang said. "Some of the stories on 'Master of None' would frankly be very different if they were told by older white guys — no offense to older white guys, many of whom are amazing talents."

Janis Hirsch, a white screenwriter whose credits include the black-oriented sitcoms "My Wife and Kids" and "Eve," has no quarrel with that view.

"I can come up with a story, because telling family stories, or single girl stories, there's a certain universality to all of them. But as far as the specifics go, I take a back seat," Hirsch said. "I listen to the black writers. I don't presume to know. How can I?"

___

Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/lynn-elber and she can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber


 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Entertainment NewsEntertainment NewsMore>>

  • Rock On: Michelle Obama book tour is reaching high

    Rock On: Michelle Obama book tour is reaching high

    Friday, September 21 2018 3:00 PM EDT2018-09-21 19:00:12 GMT
    Sunday, September 23 2018 2:01 PM EDT2018-09-23 18:01:55 GMT
    (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert). FILE - In this June 22, 2018 file photo, former first lady Michelle Obama speaks at the American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans. Obama is launching a book tour to promote her memoir "Becoming," a tour fe...(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert). FILE - In this June 22, 2018 file photo, former first lady Michelle Obama speaks at the American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans. Obama is launching a book tour to promote her memoir "Becoming," a tour fe...
    There has never been a book tour quite like the one planned for Michelle Obama's "Becoming.". 
    There has never been a book tour quite like the one planned for Michelle Obama's "Becoming.". 
  • Get ready for 'Bongzilla,' selfie frenzy at Vegas pot museum

    Get ready for 'Bongzilla,' selfie frenzy at Vegas pot museum

    Thursday, September 20 2018 2:28 AM EDT2018-09-20 06:28:05 GMT
    Sunday, September 23 2018 12:03 PM EDT2018-09-23 16:03:32 GMT
    (AP Photo/John Locher). In this Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 photo, Gabe Williams works on a exhibit at the Cannabition cannabis museum in Las Vegas. The museum celebrating all things cannabis with displays that include a glass bong taller than a giraffe an...(AP Photo/John Locher). In this Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 photo, Gabe Williams works on a exhibit at the Cannabition cannabis museum in Las Vegas. The museum celebrating all things cannabis with displays that include a glass bong taller than a giraffe an...
    A museum celebrating all things cannabis with displays that include a glass bong taller than a giraffe and huggable faux marijuana plants is the newest tourist attraction in Las Vegas. 
    A museum celebrating all things cannabis with displays that include a glass bong taller than a giraffe and huggable faux marijuana plants is the newest tourist attraction in Las Vegas. 
  • Fox-Comcast battle to buy Sky to be settled by auction in UK

    Fox-Comcast battle to buy Sky to be settled by auction in UK

    Thursday, September 20 2018 5:28 AM EDT2018-09-20 09:28:17 GMT
    Sunday, September 23 2018 7:40 AM EDT2018-09-23 11:40:29 GMT
    British regulators say that the corporate battle between 21st Century Fox and Comcast to take over broadcaster Sky will be settled by auction. 
    British regulators say that the corporate battle between 21st Century Fox and Comcast to take over broadcaster Sky will be settled by auction. 
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 KFMB-TV. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.