Several New York state legislators are pushing to add a diversity tax credit for film and television productions that hire women and people of color as writers and directors.
If passed, New York would be the first state with a film tax credit that includes a diversity clause.
For many looking to land a career in TV or film, informal networking often determines who lands what job. Friends and colleagues incessantly refer one another for positions, which has fueled an incestuous cycle that many say has excluded women and people of color.
“The fact is that people have known for a long time about the lack of diversity in television and yet the problem hasn’t changed,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America East. “This legislation would provide an incentive to hire women and people of color to write and direct television, offering new oportunities for people to build careers.”
News of the diversity clause was first reported by Crain’s New York Business.
Women and minorities have been underrepresented in TV writing for decades. From 2012-2014, minorities made up 13% of TV writers, underrepresented by a ratio of nearly 3:1, while women held a little over a quarter of those positions, underrepresented by 2:1, according to the Writers Guild of America.
Many women writers and people of color who have landed jobs writing for the small screen found themselves working among few other minority writers. Until she was 10 years into her writing career, Robin Thede, Writer and On-Air Talent for “The Nightly Show,” had never worked with another woman at a writers’ table.
“There was a show where I was constantly referred to as the ‘girl writer,’ so when something would come up with a female character in the script, they would say ‘let’s ask the girl writer,’” Thede said. “I’m pretty used to being the only person of color, but for me it’s always tough to be the representative of race and also of gender.”
When it comes to creating and portraying characters for the screen, there is no substitute for experience, and having diverse voices often makes for better storytelling. For example, shows like “Empire” and “Jane the Virgin” have seen wide success among critics and audiences largely due to the subject matter that their diverse staffs of writers are able to create, experts said.
The bills before the state legislature were introduced with bipartisan support from Republican state Sen. Kemp Hannon and Democratic Assemblyman Keith Wright and are being touted by several entertainment unions.
The amended tax program would offer up to $50,000 in credit per hire.
Wright argued that the credit would add diversity to the screen while keeping jobs in New York. The majority of productions that shoot in New York employ writers from outside the state, according to the bill’s authors.
Tracey Scott Wilson, 39, a co-producer and writer on “The Americans,” is one such writer who has had to move to Los Angeles to write scripts.
“There is talent here that is waiting to work and this bill would enable writers to stay here ... It would keep money in the state,” said Wilson. “There’s just a lot of talent here — Juilliard, NYU and Columbia — there are really talented people graduating every year and moving to L.A.”