Writers on the Line

On the Line
A Report Card for the Studios
A GLAAD report on LGBTQ+ representation underscores the strike’s importance, WGAW CAP throws a block party at Universal, and a Golden get-together at Radford
Friday, September 15, 2023

GLAAD News For The Studios

Representatives of GLAAD, WGAW and SAG-AFTRA at the release of GLAAD's Studio Responsibility Index (SRI) at the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center in Hollywood.

Alexandra Grey said it succinctly: “Queer rights are labor rights, and labor rights are queer rights.”
The SAG-AFTRA member made this statement while emceeing a joint press conference on Thursday hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), with WGA and SAG-AFTRA announcing the release of GLAAD’s 11th Annual Studio Responsibility Index (SRI).
The statement and the SRI drew praise from JJ Wienkers-Alvendia, Vice Chair of WGAW’s LGBTQ+ Writers Committee.
“It is very powerful and really awesome to see that the function GLAAD serves is just as powerful as the studios that are holding out from negotiating with us,” said Wienkers-Alvendia. “It’s also scary knowing we could lose all the gains that we have made [with LGBTQ+ representation in film]. It feels good to do something actionable.”
The SRI tracks the number, value, and range of LGBTQ+ characters in films released by several major motion picture studios  in 2021.
In their remarks, speakers challenged the commitment of studio leadership to the LGBTQ+ community and emphasized the importance of studios, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA reaching a fair deal and getting writers and actors back to work, before recent gain in LGBTQ+ representation are lost. WGAW speakers included WGAW LGBTQ+ Writers Committee Co-Chair Spiro Skentzos and WGAW Vice President Michelle Mulroney.
“Everything is shut down now, and the first thing that goes when things have to be shut down is going to be underrepresented voices and queer voices,” said Skentzos. “We’re not just fighting to be writers but for future writers. Everyone is included and no one is left behind.”

Mulroney said she was privileged to be one of the representatives of the WGAW. She is grateful to the LGBTQ+ members of the Guild for their contributions and said the community has been powerful and strong during the strike.
“We know our power as storytellers, we know our powers as members of the labor movement, and we would not be as powerful without these members,” said Mulroney. “These [SRI] report cards  are everything. There’s a common thread between this GLAAD report card and our strike, and that is studio accountability.”

According to Mulroney, the studios need to be accountable for representation, hiring practices, and the work environments they create. She added that they also must be responsible for compensating writers fairly and for creating conditions that are sustainable for them to work in.
“Those intersecting responsibilities are incredibly important, so this moment, during month five of our strike, for GLAAD to be shining the spotlight on the representation issues couldn’t be more pertinent and tie in more closely with the fight we’re involved in,” said Mulroney.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator of SAG-AFTRA, agreed that the work GLAAD has done over the years has been important to the members of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA because it applies pressure to the studios for better LBGTQ+ representation on the screen.
“We often talk about intersectionality within diverse communities, and I think this is a great opportunity for us to talk about intersectionality in a broad sense,” said Crabtree-Ireland. “It’s not just within diverse communities, it’s also within the labor movement.”
He added that the labor movement has traditionally operated not just as a mechanism for advancing social change, but also as a place where people come together to lift each other up.
“I think there is a natural affinity between our advocacy for increased inclusion and equity in the industry and organizations who are doing advocacy like the GLAAD,” said Crabtree-Ireland. 
GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis pointed out that the SRI is driven by the queer communities within the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. She also said that the loss of any of the progress made to date with queer representation in film would be heartbreaking.
“The strike is going to affect our community disproportionately compared to other communities because we rely on storytelling to humanize who we are,” said Ellis. “We see all these attacks on the trans community, so it is storytelling that brings trans people into audiences’ lives and right now that’s not being created. It’s not happening during the strike, and it’s very detrimental.”

Striking CAP-acity

Participants in the WGAW Committee Advisory Panel (CAP) Block Party Picket at NBCUniversal. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

At various points over the past four months, nearly all of the WGAW committees have thrown at least one special picket and – in the case of several of the 12 committees – multiple pickets.

In the spirit of camaraderie and inclusivity, Thursday’s Block Party picket at NBCUniversal, organized by WGAW’s Committee Advisory Panel (CAP), was for members of all of the open committees that CAP oversees, as well as their supporters. So it was plenty of free coffee, shaved ice and empanadas for everyone!

Since, CAP meetings have been held virtually since start of the pandemic, Thursday’s picket was also an occasion for committee members who had never met in person to put a live body to the Zoom face.

“We thought it was a nice opportunity to do this, to show appreciation and thanks for all the hard work that the committees do for the members, especially in these difficult times,” said WGAW Board member and CAP Co-Chair Deric A. Hughes. “The committees help hold the membership together.

“We’re hoping everyone who wants to come out comes out,” added WGAW Board member and CAP Co-Chair Liz Hsaio Lan Alper, another WGAW Board member, “There’s a lot going on right now, and we wanted to have folks who are already part of one or more of the committees come out and meet other people from those organizations and kind of build some intersectionality in that way.”

The CAP Committees include the Activities Committee; Asian American Writers Committee; Career Longevity Committee; Committee of Black Writers; Committee of Women Writers; Disabled Writers Committee; Genre Committee; Latinx Writers Committee; LGBTQ+ Writers Committee; Middle Eastern Writers Committee; Native American & Indigenous Writers Committee and Writers Education Committee.

Although CAP and the committees have not met formally since the start of the strike, relationships forged within these committees have carried over and become galvanized on the picket lines, said WGAW member Franki Butler. In addition to serving as the Vice Chair of the Committee of Women Writers, Butler is involved with the Committee of Black Writers and the LGBTQ+ Writers Committee.

“Before the strike, all of our committee meetings were a really great place for people to connect, maybe meet someone you hadn’t met before,” Butler said. “Through the strike, now committee members have someone to go picket with. We’re trying to get people together, get people out, keep people’s spirits up, and make it a little bit easier to go through these months.”

WGAW Board members and Committee Advisory Panel (CAP) Co-Chairs Deric A. Hughes and Liz Hsaio Lan Alper. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

Still Golden After All These Years

Former writers, crew and fans of The Golden Girls at Radford Studios. Photo by Brittany Woodside. 

Author and aspiring WGAW member Jim Colucci was counting on the continued popularity of the hit comedy The Golden Girls when he organized a Golden Girls Day picket at Radford Studios Thursday. Colucci had interacted with cast and crew of the series in researching his 2016 book, Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai, and he figured people would turn out.

“I know it’s still a tight-knit group, and then it seemed that it’s a show that has a lot of fan love,” Colucci said Thursday at the picket which took place on the 38th anniversary of the series premiere. “There are people here today who just came because they loved the show. They weren’t associated with, but they’re here wearing their Golden Girls shirts. I knew it would be a good way to draw people out.”

“The theme ironically fits so well,” he continued. “The girls always stood up for progressive causes. At one point, there’s an episode where they’re picketing down by the docks to save the dolphins.”

WGAW member Stan Zimmerman, who wrote on the first season of the series with his writing partner James Berg, recalls The Golden Girls being an outstanding early career opportunity for a young writer learning the ropes of comedy writing.

“It was scary being with legends,” Zimmerman said. “I grew up watching Bea Arthur in Maude and Betty White in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and it was petrifying, but I loved what Susan Harris created with these four women and I loved where we were going with it. There was a lot of pressure because we knew that when we had actresses of this caliber, you couldn’t have a mediocre joke.”

The two-time Writers Guild Award nominee has another recollection from his tenure on the Golden Girls. He and Berg were both encouraged to stay in the closet.

“It was in the middle of the AIDS crisis, so it was a very scary time for gays in Hollywood,” Zimmerman said. “Even though it was a very progressive show, our reps told us not to come out. Estelle Getty [who played Sophia] was the only one on the show who knew about us, and she was our ally and very supportive. That’s while I’ll always be a Sophia.”

Zimmerman is also working on a behind-the-scenes book, The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore, which will chronicle his experiences working on such series as The Golden Girls, The Gilmore Girls and Roseanne, on which he served as a writer and co-producer.

Standing outside the Radford gate, from which he could see the office he worked in during his time on Roseanne, Zimmerman cited his experience on that show as a reason why the WGA strike is important. The Roseanne writers’ room had 21 writers banging out 24-episode seasons.

“That’s how I learned to write, by being there,” he said. “It’s learning story structure, so as a young writer, that was the best experience, to be in that room with older writers and learning from them.”

Room size matters for Colucci as a writer who hopes to eventually be a member of WGAW.

“There’s a lack of opportunity to break in when the room is so small,” Colucci said. “I want to be in a big room with lot of experienced people and learn, but the pipeline is really choked off without an opportunity for new people to enter the system.”

(L-R), Golden Girls Day picket organizer Jim Colucci, former script coordinator Ellen Deutsch and former staff writer Stan Zimmerman.