Seventeen years later, little has changed, according to Bielbys' latest study, "Hollywood Dreams, Harsh Realities: Writing for Film and Television," just published in the Fall/Winter 2002 edition of "Contexts," the magazine of the American Sociological Association. Indeed, despite efforts to dismantle discrimination, the situation has worsened, with middle-aged and senior white male writers joining women and minorities on the sidelines watching white men under 40 get most of the jobs.
"Over the past two decades, women and minorities have made advances in almost every profession," Denise Bielby said. "Writing for film and television is a stark exception, where white males continue to dominate the telling of Hollywood's stories. In addition, the relentless pursuit of younger audiences has eroded career opportunities for many older writers, who now find themselves working at the margins of the industry."
The injustice extends beyond the writers who are denied employment, the Bielbys said. It is also of concern that the ideas and perspectives of women, minorities and older people are being denied access to Hollywood's immense national and international audience.
"In short, it's a matter of whose stories get told," Denise Bielby said. "Even when we see persons of color or minorities featured in prominent roles in a Hollywood production, the story is almost always told from the perspective of a white, male writer."
After the Bielby's initial findings were published in 1987, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) â€“ the union that represents film and television writers â€“ and civil rights organizations made substantial efforts to fight discrimination.
In their latest study, the Bielby's discuss the factors they believe caused those efforts to fail:
In their paper, the Bielbys point out that writers have recently taken their cause to court. Class action suits against 23 of the largest networks, studios, production companies, and talent agencies are scheduled to be heard in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 10, 2003. About 150 writers are plaintiffs. A television writer has filed a related individual action suit against the WB Network Partners and Twentieth Century Fox Television alleging that he was passed over for promotion and ultimately terminated from his writing position because of his age.
The cases have ramifications that extend beyond the parties involved, the Bielbys said. In the conclusion of their paper, they write: "The stakes are high, not just for fairness in employment, but also for whose stories get told to a global audience."
Copies of the article are available by contacting Johanna Ebner in the Public Information Office of the American Sociological Association at (202) 383-9005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.