I asked some assistants, all women and all minority, to weigh in on what it’s like working in an industry that skews so white and male. They share stories and advice from their experiences.
“Every time I walk into a room I instinctively count how many Black people are in the room. That’s really a life thing but when you’re working in this industry, more often than not, you are the only Black person in the room or one of few POC. It can be equal parts daunting and empowering. Although I would never want to speak for all Black people, I feel as if I have a responsibility to make sure my voice is heard and not shy away from calling out the systemic issues with representation in this industry. My biggest advice would be to always ask for what you want! The worst anyone can do is say no. If they say no, it may ruin your afternoon but, if they say yes, it could change the trajectory of your career. And never stop loving what you do! We’re all in this industry because we love film, tv, creativity, entertainment, etc. If you stop loving it, stop doing it. It’s not worth it if you don’t!” - Bola Fapohunda, TV Development
“As a script coordinator / writers' assistant, I've definitely felt that my gender and race affected my ability to succeed in the writers' room. I've been very lucky to have generally progressive writers in the room, but much of the issue extends beyond political beliefs-- it's a matter of cultural collateral. While most of the writers benefit from having similar backgrounds (white, upper middle class, college-educated American born parents who support their passions, etc.) many women of color do not share the experiences and pop culture references of these upbringings, often leaving them (including myself) feeling left out at best and at worst ridiculed: "How do you NOT know that?" It's something I've been told a lot. And yet, if I were to mention a specific experience from my middle-class, immigrant background, the reaction is usually quiet. In a best case scenario, it becomes a teaching moment and at worst, it ruins the flow of the room, and I'm deemed as a "bad writers' assistant." Relationships are everything in this industry, and being expected to make friends with your superiors while maintaining your "personal voice and perspective" is so difficult. To combat this, I've spent a lot of time trying to research and learn to enjoy the movies, books, podcasts, etc. that the room enjoys. While I'm grateful for the chance to learn, it does make me feel as if I must "adapt to upper class white tastes" in order to be successful. In addition to this, I've made an effort to talk to the writers about anything we have in common at all and try to lean into those subjects. As awful as it is to say, I've learned with many white women that my best bet is to just connect with them on the level of "being women" and never once mention my experiences as someone of color. I hope someday this changes, but much of my attempts to incorporate that subject have been met with awkwardness and uncertainty that has not helped my career. I think that writers' rooms are changing, and I'm often reminded of my own biases as well, which I'm grateful to have a chance to grow from. I know what I can control is myself-- my growth, my writing ability, my behavior, and I hope someday I can help build a room that moves the world forward.” - Name withheld, Script Coordinator/Writer’s Assistant
“One thing I wish I had learned sooner is to be confident in your own opinion and taste. While keeping yourself informed by reading different material is important, you must constantly remind yourself that you have a unique point of view and people should not make you feel lesser than for expressing it. There is no right or wrong, only a new voice that deserves to be heard.” - Name Withheld, Development Assistant
“Secure the bag! If you have an interview or meeting always put your best, most shiny foot forward. Remember you got this meeting for a reason -- your stacked resume or your great writing sample -- therefore, you belong in the room. Leave nerves and doubt at the door. It may take a bit of performance and that's hard for those of us that lean more introverted. I'm not saying to hide your true self, always be genuine, but also be interesting, interested and friendly. You can show your true colors once you've gotten the job/are in the room ha. My last boss told me that I seemed so warm and lovely in my interview. He wasn't saying that to make me feel bad about not being warm and lovely 100% of the time I was in the writer's room, but to acknowledge that I surprised him with how much more I had to offer in the room. So secure the bag, then when you get into the room, do your job, show them the error of their ways and why hiring you was one of the best decisions they made.” - Cynthia Adarkwa, TV Writer, Twitter: @cynteeeahh