After recent widespread criticism about Saturday Night Live’s lack of diversity, prompted by the hiring of six new cast members (five men and all white), Lorne Michaels woke up and added three African-American women to the SNL family. Sasheer Zamata is the show’s new featured player, while LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones (vetted from the recent auditions) will join the writing staff.
It’s a step in the right direction, but SNL isn’t the only television show that needs to do better. In the Writers Guild of America’s 2013 TV staffing brief, some troubling numbers came to light. During the 2011 to 2012 season, 83.7 percent of writers were white (6.5 percent were African-American; 4 percent were Latino; 3.9 percent were Asian American; and 0.3 percent were Native American). Ten percent of TV shows had no female writers, and almost a third had no minority writers.
There are network shows breaking ground with a diverse array of talent in their writing rooms (and in front of the camera), but writers of color are still sorely underrepresented. We’ve highlighted the work of 12 important TV scribes of color — some veterans in the business and several up-and-comers to keep an eye on.
Award-winning writer Shonda Rhimes has made a tremendous impact in the world of television, particularly with her work on the long-running Grey’s Anatomy (which utilized color-blind casting) and Scandal as creator, head writer, and producer.
“When people who aren’t of color create a show and they have one character of color on their show, that character spends all their time talking about the world as ‘I’m a black man blah, blah, blah.’ That’s not how the world works,” she told the New York Times. “I’m a black woman every day, and I’m not confused about that. I’m not worried about that. I don’t need to have a discussion with you about how I feel as a black woman, because I don’t feel disempowered as a black woman.”
Scandal has addressed race perhaps more overtly than her other shows, but Rhimes wants people to realize that “the discussion is right in front of your face.”