October 24, 2008

Only 11 Native writers in Hollywood?

Native American storytelling gets a new impetus

A new Writers Guild caucus hopes to extend that heritage into Hollywood.No one really had any idea how many Native American writers there were in Hollywood. But when the Writers Guild of America West sent out the call for qualified writers to form their own diversity committee, only three turned out for the first meeting. Fewer than a dozen working professionals eventually signed up.

"It was shocking to find out how few of us there actually were," said Micah Wright, the chair of the new WGAW American Indian Writers Caucus. The industry has hundreds of Native American actors but just a handful of writers, even though, as Wright said, "the American Indian culture as a whole is a storytelling culture."

The union already had minority groups for female writers, black writers, Latino writers, Asian American writers, gay and lesbian writers, writers with disabilities and even an Age Awareness Committee for writers over 40--but nothing for American Indians. When Kim Myers, the WGAW's new diversity director, was asked why last year by a member of the activist group American Indians in Film and Television, she didn't know. So she began the process to create one.

Now, after a few meetings, the group looks forward to pursuing its mission of raising awareness of Native American writers, fostering and mentoring a new generation, and serving as a resource for other WGA members. The group claims an official membership of 11, including Wright, Jason Gavin ("Friday Night Lights"), Steven Judd (a Disney fellow working on "Mongoose and Luther") and Travis Wright ("Eagle Eye" and no relation to Micah).

American Indians have had a tougher time than other minorities in Hollywood, Myers said. Like others, most of Hollywood's mythmaking movies about or including American Indians were penned by writers outside their community. While blacks and Latinos particularly have made progress in selling contemporary stories about their lives to mainstream productions, Native Americans--with the exception of the 1998 movie "Smoke Signals"--generally have not.
Comment:  Judging by what I've seen in the Creative Spirit competitions, there are a lot more than 11 Native writers in Hollywood. The problem is that most of them don't have (writing) jobs with the major studios. They're writing documentaries, short films, plays, or skits rather than big-name movies or TV shows.

For more on the subject, see Diversity Lacking in Television.

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