It was 2017, and I was sitting in a packed theater in Salt Lake City, Utah watching horror-themed short films directed by women for Sundance’s midnight showcase. After the films faded to black and the lights went up, one particular white male producer went on a spiel during the panel about not being able to find women writers who weren’t also directors.
Tuh. You’re just not looking hard enough, Chadington. And intentionally so. First off, Tad, a lot of women have to become directors or other hyphenates because their scripts are usually brushed off, so if they want any chance to see their shit onscreen, well... directing, it is.
Add “black” to that “women” sandwich, and you have quite the discriminatory dinner. With a “tone deaf” drink on the side. It’s a lonely lunch date.
Cue Lena Waithe (The Chi), Nkechi Okoro Carroll (All American), and Erika L. Johnson (Queen Sugar). Thrust into the isolating world of television writing, the three writers decided to corral a group of black women writers to coalesce in a safe space known as, “Black Women Who Brunch” (BWB). The tribe grew from a humble and intimate 12 writers to a substantial squad.
So much so, The Hollywood Reporter broke its all-time photoshoot record, featuring a whopping 62 black women scribes from a variety of backgrounds, genres and portfolios.
Johnson boasts BWB as “the proof” and cure to “people saying, ‘We can’t find any black female writers.”
“It’s not just a community we’re building, but a resource,” noted Waithe. “We really are able to recommend eight or nine black women for certain jobs.”
In a much-needed feature, each writer spoke to Rebecca Sun about the trials and tribulations of identifying as a black woman writer, including, but not limited to: navigating the rigamarole of social networking, combatting microaggressions, and tokenism.
Many of the writers shared the same stories of being “the black voice” in the writers’ room as a sea of white eyes peered at them to speak for the entire black delegation. Or being replaced by a more experienced writer and forced to repeat staff writing gigs after serving as roadkill in the rat race, while industry heads patted themselves on the back for doing the bare-minimum by participating in short-term diversity hiring programs. Having to take the time to explain a joke that your fellow black women would immediately get highlighted the importance of this brunch-based sisterhood.
“I was the only woman in the Justified [FX] room during its first two seasons, so you can imagine how refreshing it was when I was pitching story on Nashville, which had a majority female writing staff,” said Wendy Calhoun, consulting producer for Station 19 on ABC. “It meant I could spend more time pitching nuance and fresh takes, and less time explaining why I’m pitching the idea in the first place. That deep character dive happened in a different way on Empire season one, which was not a gender-balanced room but had more working black writers than I’d seen outside of a WGA event. We dissected black American music, stories and characters from every angle in that room.”
Additionally, since their white counterparts aren’t inviting them to lunch—which, isn’t just lunch, this is how the bulk of careers are started or catapulted in this industry—BWB members hook up each other with possible leads on jobs, serving as their very own referral pipeline. Their “we all gon’ eat” mentality is incredible.
“Lena Waithe helped to put my name in front of Frankie Shaw for the writers room of SMILF season two,” said Rochée Jeffrey, story editor of Showtime’s SMILF and executive story editor for YouTube Premium’s Step Up: High Water.
Despite—and possibly, because of—our hurdles, black women get shit done, and this particular example both inspired me and warmed my heart. As I scanned each face of the 62 members of future Hollywood, I saw the representation of 62 more. Of hundreds more. We out here.
It’s been said before: we never want to hear “I can’t find any black women writers” ever again. Black women been writing, Hollywood. How about you write them checks?