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Where the Writers Guild of America Goes Next to Support Marginalized Workers, with Angela Harvey and Tawal Panyacosit Jr.

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Black Work Talk
Black Work Talk
Where the Writers Guild of America Goes Next to Support Marginalized Workers, with Angela Harvey and Tawal Panyacosit Jr.

After the second-longest strike in Hollywood history, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) voted to ratify a new contract in October 2023. Their 146-day walkout brought wins on some of the most pressing issues they were fighting for. These included new standards governing the use of AI for producing content and the distribution of residuals in the age of streaming.

Joining host Bianca Cunningham to discuss the strike, the contract, and these shifts in the entertainment industry are WGA member and Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity (TTIE) co-chair Angela Harvey, whose writing credits include MTV’s Teen Wolf, Station 19, and American Horror Stories, and one of TTIE’s other co-chairs, Tawal Panyacosit Jr., a WGA member and activist whose has writing credits on Vampire Academy and other shows.

Bianca also talks with Angela and Tawal about TTIE and the importance of bringing more diverse stories to audiences who are hungry for them. TTIE is an intersectional group of working TV writers comprised of BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and women writers, from emerging voices to showrunners. Angela and Tawal reflect on the openness to diversity in TV and film writers’ spaces today and their hopes for the industry’s future.

[00:00:00] Angela Harvey: Even before this strike, you had a lot of writers who have been very pro union for a long time, but they, you know, they’re calling this hot strike summer, a hot labor summer. And so you saw a lot of blue t shirts out there at the hotels. You saw a lot of blue t shirts out there when UPS was fighting for their contract.

[00:00:23] Even today, there’s Uh, blue t shirts out there with Kaiser. So I think you’re seeing a lot of people who write [00:00:30] film and TV for a living, getting bit with that labor bug and it is time for solidarity.

[00:00:45] Bianca Cunningham: Welcome to black work. Talk the podcast voice of black workers, leaders, activists, and intellectuals. Exploring connections between race, capitalism, labor, and culture in the struggle for a democratic, progressive governing power. I’m your host, Bianca [00:01:00] Cunningham. And I’m your co 

[00:01:01] Jamala Rogers: host, Jamilah Rogers. 

[00:01:03] Bianca Cunningham: On this episode, I’ll be joined by Writers Guild of America members and co founders of the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, Angela Harvey and Tawad Panyakoset, Jr.

[00:01:14] to discuss what was won in their new contract after nearly five months on strike and more.

[00:01:25] Angela Harvey: So on 

[00:01:26] Jamala Rogers: future episodes of Black Work Talk, we’re going to spend a lot of [00:01:30] time in conversation with folks already involved in organized labor. These are the activists and organizers, but we also know that there are new and upcoming. Emerging leaders in this field. And so from time to time, we are going to talk about how you can organize better in your area.

[00:01:52] So this is where my co host Bianca will come and periodically give segments that we like to [00:02:00] call organizing one. Bianca. Thanks, 

[00:02:05] Bianca Cunningham: Jamala. So we’re talking about building a committee today. So after you’ve spoken to your coworkers and identified issues that you all care about together, the next step would be to form a committee.

[00:02:19] Now there’s a couple of things to think about when you want to build a committee. Obviously you’ve had conversations with people who you trust most. won’t go back to management, um, and repeat the [00:02:30] conversation and also people who you probably are guessing are going to be pro union along with you. And so you’ve got a small cluster of folks, ideally two to three people who you can brainstorm with.

[00:02:42] When you start brainstorming with them about how to expand, you want to think about a couple things. Number one, you want to build a committee that’s representative. of your workplace. So that can mean as far as race and ethnicity, it can mean as far as age, it could mean things as [00:03:00] far as job title. You want to have a representative committee, so you want to ideally think about where there are blocks of people or simulators that people have and try to recruit based on that.

[00:03:13] It also could be geography based, meaning if you all are not in the same workplace, you might want to have representation from the different work sites or places that do exist within your unit. So building a strong inside organizing committee is critical [00:03:30] to the majority support that you’ll need to establish your union.

[00:03:33] Like I said, ideally, these are leaders. in their own right of certain categories. Also, the number of workers on the committee should be at least 10 percent of the workforce. So, Jamal, I’m just thinking, when I had my own experience of building, um, a committee, one of the things I was looking for, which ways Can we activate the organic leaders?

[00:03:56] So I had some folks who were really well respected because they were really [00:04:00] great at their job and they made great numbers. We worked off of commission. They always had really big commission checks for great salespeople. We wanted to make sure that those people were represented so that we wouldn’t be named lazy or be named as something that’s for people who were underachieving at work.

[00:04:14] We also wanted to get you know, on the other end of the spectrum, people who had been struggling meeting certain goals because we know that their voices were also going to be important in the whole conversation. Addition to that, I also picked people who, you know, were more [00:04:30] cheerleaders. So we needed people who had like positive words to share, um, could be motivational speakers.

[00:04:36] I myself was not necessarily that person. I had different quieter strengths. So it’s just about thinking about how we can add and put together something that looks And we’ll speak for all of the workers, um, who we want to unionize with. 

[00:04:53] Jamala Rogers: So, Bianca, while you were talking, it made me think about when I was doing union [00:05:00] organizing, and you talked about the different roles that people had.

[00:05:03] Well, I was pretty well known. And so me going into a specific area to talk about union and where we could meet up and, you know, the benefits of the union was not going to work because I had a big target on my back. So that’s when we looked at, you know, sort of low key workers who, you know, were not seen as rebel wowsers.

[00:05:27] And they were able to quietly go in to [00:05:30] talk people, uh, about the union and to get signatures on those cards in a very surreptitious way. So it did take me back to some of those days, but I think, you know, when you look at the role of phones, uh, where you could actually text somebody in terms of what to do or who’s somebody’s comment, you know, you got, you got a lot of technology now that I definitely didn’t have when, when we were doing our union organizing.

[00:05:56] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, that’s a good point. I think the other thing with like, [00:06:00] trying to figure out the committee, it’s like this weird space because you’re not in a public space where you can talk openly necessarily about the union, meaning you haven’t filed right at the NLRB, but you are trying to expand past like the immediate trusted circle.

[00:06:15] And so there’s like kind of these murky waters, right? We have to be most careful. A lot of people who talk about unionizing probably only get about to this. step where they’re trying to, you know, expand a little bit because this is where you run the risk of somebody ratting you [00:06:30] out, right, to management, and then your whole thing is blown up.

[00:06:32] And so, yeah, it’s like thinking about what type of people that you want to have on the committee, but it can’t be everybody who is exactly like you because you’re not most times, right, representative of the whole entire committee. And so you have to like take some chances there. But I would say the most, you know, like the things to remember are that like There are all types of organic leaders in their own right, but honestly, like, the definition of a leader [00:07:00] is just somebody who’s respected and somebody who has followers, right?

[00:07:03] And so it’s like, if somebody will follow them, if somebody will listen to them, if somebody will respect them, then you know they’re going to be important to engage, um, and figure out how to bring into the work, if it’s possible. Yeah, 

[00:07:15] Jamala Rogers: I think the other thing is really making sure that people who are going to be part of such committee understand the kind of support that they have both inside the, [00:07:30] the, you know, the, the work area outside because what they’re doing is in fact jeopardizing their job.

[00:07:37] And in fact, jeopardizing their livelihood. So, there’s a lot of scared people when you start these campaigns. Like, you know, what if, what if, what if. And if you don’t have a union, you know, and in the state where I am, the state of Missouri, you are hired at will and you are fired at will. So, people are very, very aware of that.

[00:07:57] And it’s always this. It’s a [00:08:00] cloud that hangs over people’s heads, like if I do this, I can summarily be fired with no rationale or reason. And so I think when people know that there’s strength in numbers behind them, uh, and that they’re getting adequate. training about how to do this, how to do that, when not to talk about the union, um, because you’ve laid that out quite clearly that you need to be on your own time when all of this union organizing is happening.

[00:08:28] And sometimes that’s where, [00:08:30] uh, enthusiastic Uh, leaders get into trouble, uh, and so yeah, I think, you know, just that level of support and training that they’ll need in order to navigate through those, uh, workplaces, uh, wherever they’re trying to organize. 

[00:08:47] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, that’s a good point. So they’re not in a public place necessarily having filed.

[00:08:52] However, I do want to stress to people who may be new to these concepts, you are protected. under the law to organize [00:09:00] as a committee member. And so while you may not want to yell it from the rooftops and let everybody in your, you know, workplace know what’s going on yet, especially people you don’t trust, you also are need to be like explicit in some sort of documentation that you’re part of a committee.

[00:09:16] So should you get targeted, you have some protections, um, to show that you were illegally fired. Yeah, 

[00:09:24] Jamala Rogers: knowing the law, laws that protect you are important. Sometimes they may not count, but still you need to [00:09:30] know 

[00:09:30] Bianca Cunningham: them. As we’re recording this episode in early October 2023, members of the Writers Guild of America are voting to approve their new contract, which was negotiated after 146 days on strike, the second largest strike in Hollywood history.

[00:09:51] The new contract includes wins on some of the most pressing issues they were fighting for, including most specifically standards around use of AI for producing content [00:10:00] and handling of residuals in the age of streaming. Joining me today to discuss the contract, the strike, and these shifts in the entertainment industry are WGA member and co chair of Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, Angela Harvey.

[00:10:14] who has writing credits on MTV’s Teen Wolf, Station 19, American Horror Stories, and more. Angela, thanks so much for being here. Of 

[00:10:24] Angela Harvey: course. Thank you for having me. 

[00:10:26] Bianca Cunningham: So excited to get into it. I’m also joined by her [00:10:30] WGA colleague and fellow TIE co chair, Tawal Pena Costa Jr., who has writing credits on Vampire Academy and upcoming Mac series, The Girl on the Bus.

[00:10:41] to wall. Thanks for joining us as well. I’m really excited to get into it. 

[00:10:45] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: Thank you. Happy to be here. 

[00:10:48] Bianca Cunningham: Great. So let’s just get into, yeah, everybody’s been hearing about this strike. So I just first, like, I’m really interested in the evolution of writers and the working guild of America and their contracts.

[00:10:59] I mean, I [00:11:00] think like just personally, like this strike had like, it seems like much more like coverage, um, and social media because the age of social media, but also just much more like. working class support in the court of public opinion. Like I also come from the labor movement. We were all rooting for you all and doing solidarity pickets.

[00:11:19] But I think that like, even my friends who were outside of movement spaces in, in, in labor movement, we’re still like paying attention and like also rooting for you all is like, you [00:11:30] know, a solidarity, you know, for organized labor. And we know that like that sentiment has just grown, but there’s still maybe some listeners who don’t have a sense of how the ender entertainment industries model for writer employment has changed.

[00:11:43] And so I wonder if you can just talk a little bit about what that’s been like, like the history and like what your experience was in this strike, you know, striking with the public and in your messaging, etc. 

[00:11:55] Angela Harvey: Yeah, it wasn’t even necessarily as much that, um, [00:12:00] our working structure changed as much as it was The studios were changing their business model and wanting us to go ahead and do business as usual.

[00:12:09] And, uh, that just. wasn’t going to work. One of the main things that people talked about, one of the main issues was, like, residuals. And so, like, when you have a cable model where you’re getting paid, the studios were getting paid for, um, for reuse of our work. [00:12:30] And they abandoned that model inexplicably, in my opinion, to go to this subscription model where it felt like there was a dead end.

[00:12:41] There wasn’t as much profitability there and they, they kind of wanted us to absorb that cost. And that was not acceptable for us. 

[00:12:53] Bianca Cunningham: Right. So it was more about like the studios changing the way they do things arbitrarily or for their own benefit [00:13:00] without really thinking about the effects that it would have on you all.

[00:13:03] Right. And they 

[00:13:03] Angela Harvey: also changed the way that they made content based on that model, like where it used to be that we would make, you would write a show and go into production and you’re producing as part of your duties. They, because they didn’t have the pressure of going to air, they were separating the writing from the producing.

[00:13:23] And that’s, I mean, it makes an inferior product first and foremost, but then it also breaks the pipeline [00:13:30] of writer producer. 

[00:13:31] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: Yeah, I think it’s also part of. The kind of broader changes in corporate America, like, you know, all those kind of forces in terms of efficiency and increasing profits, um, have absolutely come to Hollywood.

[00:13:49] And I think a lot of both above the line and below the line workers have, are feeling the impact as opposed to the C suites, you know, I think all those costs are [00:14:00] coming at our expenses. And I think to Angela’s point, you know, Previously there was kind of this was before my time, you know, I hear about this heyday of like people working on one show over the entire year and Writing their episodes, writing multiple episodes say and then going to produce their episodes And thus, you know, there’s the pipeline as they’re kind of moving up but also getting important experience but I think those forces have kind of, [00:14:30] they’ve been trying to kind of chip away at each of these kind of phases and really trying to do it as cheaply as possible, which, you know, I think is, is arguable whether it’s been successful in terms of creating better content.

[00:14:43] Um, but it’s definitely broken the pipeline and less people are being asked to do more without necessarily additional compensation either. 

[00:14:53] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, that makes so much sense. I was just thinking like a couple weeks ago we were talking about this, this idea in labor of like [00:15:00] manager discretion and like a lot of people oftentimes think that like employer employee disputes or union disputes are about money when they’re really just like about power and discretion to like make a profit.

[00:15:12] Um, and so, and that’s at the expense of normally like the members and you know, the workers themselves. And so that sounds like very similar to me. Yeah. Sacrificing a better product, sacrificing, um, you know, something that works for everyone or a system that works for everyone in lieu, you know, for profits, [00:15:30] um, and for an inferior product as well.

[00:15:33] Angela Harvey: Yeah. I think, you know, we’ve seen so many industries because of the music industry went through this, the, you know, journalism has suffered at the hands of this like tech influence and venture capital, those like. Churning through industry after industry, trying to wreak as much money out of it as they can.

[00:15:52] Whereas, you know, um, people are passionate about what they do. Like people go into journalism because they’re passionate about [00:16:00] telling the truthful stories. They come into writing and entertainment because we’re passionate about that work. And those things just aren’t at the forefront of any of those business minds at this moment.

[00:16:11] Bianca Cunningham: Right, right. So in short, bosses are terrible. Um, but I also want to just talk about like, what the reality is for you all. Um, cause we know that like, like you said, all industries are changing, working people are fighting back, you know, against that, you know, to make sure that they’re not left behind. But like the [00:16:30] attention that unions like Writers Guild of America or SAG AFTRA receive sometimes like even though there was a ton of support like in the public, um, and maybe knowledge about the issues, it also seems like sometimes there can be like a little bit like dismissal, um, because of like a few maybe like A list celebrity outliers that have been those unions and people really like associate I think like Hollywood or fame 27 28 30 with like wealth and material security.

[00:16:55] So can we just talk a little bit about what the reality is? Like what kind of wages are [00:17:00] members of writer writers guild of America making? I 

[00:17:04] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: mean, I think, you know, from the outside looking in one could get a, uh, a warped idea of, of what it truly is without kind of a sense of the realities on the ground.

[00:17:15] Um, I know, you know, I used to work in, I came from. organizing a nonprofit, uh, before kind of getting into TV writing. And, you know, the, the pay there isn’t great, you know, always [00:17:30] it’s most of the time it’s not. Uh, and I’ll tell you the truth. I made more on my first job than I ever did before. But then the reality was that money had to last me for a much longer time as I was pursuing more jobs because I didn’t have the security of one job.

[00:17:50] And so, you know, it had to afford me the ability to kind of last until I could find the next job, which could be a month, three months. Some people [00:18:00] go a year, even more between gigs and then take off the 25 percent that you’re going to, you know, five to your lawyer, 10 to your manager, 10 to your agent. So at the end of the day, that while it looks larger, kind of on a day to day scale, like.

[00:18:17] The insecurity and instability of the industry almost necessitates that in order for us to survive at a kind of just normal working threshold. 

[00:18:28] Bianca Cunningham: That makes a lot of sense. [00:18:30] 

[00:18:30] Angela Harvey: It does. I’m gonna just kind of come at the thought that is behind that. Like, I’ve been at this work for over 10 years. And so, with that comes a lot of experience and a bigger paycheck.

[00:18:45] And I’m not gonna pretend like, I’m a career changer too, like I came out of. So I’m not going to pretend like I’m not making a good living, but, uh, when I’m working, but I will also kind [00:19:00] of challenge the fact that we’re looking at that as workers, we, we have a tendency to look at, well, you’re making more than me, so you’re doing well.

[00:19:09] What are you complaining about? Yes. Rather than Pointing upward. Like we’re not making what the studio bosses are making. And you know, the nurses are not, they’re actually not the nurses, but the people who are on strike at Kaiser right now are not getting paid their worth. Right. [00:19:30] Because we need to be looking up the, up the ladder at Kaiser, up the ladder at Warner Discovery, up.

[00:19:39] That’s where they’re holding on the money. Writing for TV and movies is not rocket science, for sure. But it is a craft, and it does create intellectual property that comes with rights. And so, yeah, workers make money because The studios make money off of the intellectual property that we [00:20:00] generate. I would rather not start talking about, like, will you get this and you get that?

[00:20:05] Like, no. Oh, yeah. Let’s look at who’s withholding. Let’s look at where this is really 

[00:20:10] Bianca Cunningham: breaking down. Absolutely. This is about wealth sharing, right? This is about sharing wealth. You’re generating, your work is generating wealth, and you’re entitled to that wealth, you know, that your labor is creating.

[00:20:21] Absolutely. 

[00:20:22] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: 100%. And I think that’s also part of, That was part of the discussions around [00:20:30] residuals, um, is success based residuals, right? Because thus far, a lot of streaming numbers have been very opaque, and the way the first off residuals are awesome, I would not have made it through this strike if not for residuals.

[00:20:47] Like, literally every time I hit that moment in the strike, I checked miraculously came through from Vampire Academy. Bless because I was so [00:21:00] thankful, but, you know, I think in the future, like a lot of these shows to, and just point are making studios bank and the workers and the creators are not receiving any sort of differential kind of, uh, residual in, in relation to that.

[00:21:15] And so linking kind of the success that our content is creating for studios and sharing in that wealth is literally, yeah, it’s only 

[00:21:24] Bianca Cunningham: fair. Yeah, that’s a, that’s a good point. Yeah. And I’m so glad that you broke down like the [00:21:30] dispute over residuals and like why they’re so important. I wonder if we can talk about like what were some of the other big wins for you all and the other, and the other members?

[00:21:40] The 

[00:21:40] Angela Harvey: one of the biggest ones that I’m excited about is minimum room size. As Toal was saying earlier, they’re asking fewer and fewer people to share the burden of more and more labor without additional compensation. And so, and in addition to that, I felt like. The pipeline was kind of broken. People were having a harder [00:22:00] time getting jobs.

[00:22:01] So this has always been a difficult industry to break into, but they were just really making it next door to impossible and probably would have gotten much worse as time went on. So even though the minimum numbers are small, at least they exist. They protect the existence of the writer’s room, which I think is key.

[00:22:23] And that one hand in hand with AI is not a writer. Because we could see the writing on the wall that where they wanted [00:22:30] to go was have AI generate content and then hire one or two people to rewrite that. And um, that just was not going to work. The guild would not exist. The guild would crumble if that were the case.

[00:22:43] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, they’re literally trying to replace you with AI. Um, so like, yeah, and that makes me think too, is like, we had some teamsters on a couple episodes back, and we’re talking about AI for their industry as well. And so I wonder if you feel like, like the agreement [00:23:00] that you reached in the contract could be like a good model for like, other sectors to like follow and trying to like fight back against AI taking their jobs.

[00:23:10] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: You know, I think only time will tell, um, but I agree that it feels like it’s a great solid win for writers, for sure. Um, particularly when we’re talking about kind of, for folks like us, you know, historically excluded writers, because I do think, you know, one of our, [00:23:30] um, our communications chair, Danny Tully often talks about how, you know, with AI also comes a regurgitation of all these kind of old stereotypes and things that have, you know, been really, truly fucking offensive in the past, and if, with AI, if AI is working on it, it’s pulling from all that and just regurgitating it, and it’s not really going to take us anywhere good, 

[00:23:55] Bianca Cunningham: necessarily.

[00:23:55] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, like, it’s no secret that, like, [00:24:00] writers rooms and production, like, have historically been, like, white AF, right? Um, being led by, like, white cis men who could afford the education or the, have the Hollywood insider connections, um, necessary to get in those rooms. I wonder if you can talk about like, cause I think this is like a little bit, I want like, uh, touching what you were talking about, Angela, about like the minimums, like is the current model of entertainment writing doing enough to develop and like up and coming black writers and other like non white or non wealthy like talents, do you [00:24:30] think?

[00:24:31] Oh, 

[00:24:31] Angela Harvey: no, nowhere near, nowhere near enough. Um, and that’s partly why I think things for inclusion and equity exist. The group that the wall and I are co chairs of because there really hasn’t been that forward thinking. The industry has always thinks pipeline when they think about historically excluded writers.

[00:24:50] So they create these programs to bring people in from the general public, put them in these programs and get them their start in the writer’s room, which is great in theory, but they’ve been doing this [00:25:00] for 30 years. So it takes about eight years to climb the ranks of a writer. So like, where did all those people go?

[00:25:07] But clearly there’s a. cultural issue inside the industry that doesn’t allow people to get a foothold and to climb the ranks. And so you’ll see now a lot, those of us who have managed to stick around, you see those people pulling up others. And so, That’s where we are in the industry at the moment.[00:25:30] 

[00:25:35] Bianca Cunningham: Hi, this is Kayden, the publisher of Convergence Magazine. There are a lot of places that you can put your hard earned money in support of our movements, but if you’re enjoying this show, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Convergence on Patreon. We’re a small, independent operation and rely heavily on our readers and listeners like you to support our work.

[00:25:52] patreon. com slash convergence mag. Subscriptions are pay what you can, but at 10 bucks a month, you’ll [00:26:00] get goodies as well as knowing you’re helping to build a better media system. One that supports people’s movements and fights fascism. And if you can’t afford it right now, don’t worry. All our shows will be free for you to enjoy.

[00:26:11] You can also help by leaving us a positive review or sharing this episode with a comrade. Thank you so much for listening.

[00:26:23] I’m glad that you mentioned the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equality. Like we definitely want to give attention to that, um, here on Black Work Talk. [00:26:30] You’re both co founders of Think Tank for Inclusion and Equality or TIE. Um, so can you just tell us like a little bit more about what you all do at TIE and like why it’s important?

[00:26:41] Sure. 

[00:26:41] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: Uh, so Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, we, uh, I think as Angela kind of mentioned, you know, really formed, I think the way we kind of came together was really through Traditional organizing model. You know, we were just having conversations amongst ourselves and started realizing that a lot of kind [00:27:00] of the individual experiences that folks were, um, encountering were shared across the board with various kind of, you know, the, the, the microaggressions in the room, having to repeat titles, you know, being of the only.

[00:27:18] Person of color or women or queer person in the room and having to kind of carry the weight of representing that community to a room that may not necessarily [00:27:30] understand it and be receptive to that and so We kind of got together and started realizing that There was power in coming together and in organizing and I think a lot of the hopes were that we could really kind of Build power together to advance, you know, historically excluded riders and really, because I think one of the problems, you know, as Angela mentioned, is that a lot of these kind of fellowships and programs that the industry has spearheaded have [00:28:00] brought a lot of folks into the, in the doors, but they haven’t endured, they haven’t succeeded.

[00:28:05] And one of the things we talk about often in the, in the organization at time is you can’t expect people to succeed when you’re bringing them into a broken system. If you don’t actually take the time to try and fix the system while you’re at it, you’re just setting them up to fail. Uh, and so I think the work that we’ve really taken on is trying to both build power for those coming up to the ranks as well as change the system and find a way to [00:28:30] make it to make, uh, kind of a more, a stronger pipeline through.

[00:28:34] Angela Harvey: Yeah. So one of the ways we do it, we do a survey every year just to talk about what’s going on out there. What are y’all hearing? We like to say sometimes we started on gossip. We get together and like, Oh, I’m dealing with this. I’m dealing 

[00:28:48] Bianca Cunningham: with this. The best organizing is at the bar after. 

[00:28:52] Angela Harvey: Right, right.

[00:28:52] And so, you know, you say things and just like in every other space, you know, there’s the gaslighting aspect, like, Oh, I’m so [00:29:00] sorry that happened, but that was such an isolated incident or, oh, that was just, and so the survey helps us point to like, no, no, look, it’s not just, it’s not, wasn’t just her, wasn’t just him.

[00:29:09] This is a thing that’s happening. And then the biggest, most important thing I think we do is create community. I think it can be very isolating when you’re the only one in a room. So we’re looking out across the industry to all these people who are the only ones in their rooms and bringing them together so that they can have a support system and feel less [00:29:30] alone.

[00:29:30] And I think that’s done more to keep people in the pipeline than pretty much anything else we do. 

[00:29:35] Bianca Cunningham: Community is so important. I know that in addition, like Ty also provides like fact sheets for a wider or wide cross section of underrepresented identities in media. I had a chance to look at some of them.

[00:29:47] They include like great comparisons of over represented stories and ones we’d like to see more of. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how do you go about developing like those fact sheets? And are there modern examples of [00:30:00] media you feel are living up to some of those standards that you’re striving for?

[00:30:04] Angela Harvey: I just want to shout out that I just, this premiered the night before last, but I just watched it last night. My friend Nkechi Okorokero produced a show for NBC called Found. And she’s got Black woman creator, she’s part of a Black woman co showrunner, Black woman lead, Black woman director of that pilot.

[00:30:23] It’s also just fantastic. It’s a great show. So in terms of example, you know, there are, there are [00:30:30] definitely some successes. that are happening and they are, um, generally at this point, they are happening from a visionary like, you know, Michaela Cole and I May Destroy You or, um, you know, Quinta Brunson is doing great work with Abbott Elementary.

[00:30:47] There definitely are some successes to tout, but the fact sheet, actually the origin of the fact sheet project came out of our survey. Like one of the things that people said to our survey questions was that they had a difficult time pushing back [00:31:00] on problematic storylines. Because These jobs are so hard to get.

[00:31:05] And so, like, if you’re the squeaky wheel, am I gonna get asked back? Am I gonna get another show? If I’m the squeaky wheel? 

[00:31:13] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: And on top of that, if, like, if you’re the lowest ranked person in the room, and you’re supposed to be the squeaky wheel, you gotta call out your boss, like, time and time again, and that does not create goodwill to bring you back.

[00:31:25] Bianca Cunningham: Right. 

[00:31:27] Angela Harvey: Yeah, so the fact sheets. [00:31:30] They help people to not, to be like, it’s not just me saying it, look, this group, Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, they say that we should do this instead, or they say we should think about this differently. So, um, that’s where the fact sheets came from, and then they, they kind of blew up.

[00:31:43] We’ve heard about politicians using them, we’ve heard about journalists using them. So, we have a few more coming out. We’re an all volunteer organization, so I hate to say it’ll be out, but I don’t know when it’ll be out. It’ll be out when we’re done. 

[00:31:58] Bianca Cunningham: But it’s in the works. But [00:32:00] it’s in 

[00:32:00] Angela Harvey: the works. Yeah.

[00:32:03] Bianca Cunningham: Hearing you talk about, um, you know, the difficulty with, like, being the squeaky whim is making me think of, like, a show I watched recently, The Other Black Girl, which is like the whole storyline is about, like, what do you do when you You know, want to, don’t want to just like assimilate or just get, you know, get along to get along.

[00:32:22] But you know, what do we gain when we see ourselves better represented in entertainment or the stories that we 

[00:32:28] Angela Harvey: consume? [00:32:30] We gain so much. We, when Kamala Harris was sworn in, uh, as vice president, remember seeing all those Instagram posts of little girls standing in front of the TV and watching this.

[00:32:43] Amazing black woman getting sworn in. There is just no substitute for representation. People see themselves differently. We see ourselves through story, you know. As humans, it’s just part of who we are. And so when the story is always about somebody [00:33:00] else or something else, you feel excluded. You don’t see yourself being the vice president.

[00:33:08] An astronaut, or, you know, we just suppress huge parts of our culture by not allowing everyone to be seen. 

[00:33:15] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah, it’s like we have locked our imagination, and the power to see it is like the power to know that we can also do it. 

[00:33:23] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: Yeah, I forget who said it, but you know, like, if you see it, you can be it, right?

[00:33:28] Angela Harvey: Gina Davis, our friend![00:33:30] 

[00:33:32] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: But, you know, interestingly, the other piece of it is also You know, during my organizing days, I used to knock on doors very often, knock on doors, make calls about marriage equality and, you know, it was one conversation at a time, one door at a time, we were slowly persuading and building up support, but at the same time, Will and Grace was on and Modern Family was on [00:34:00] and Glee was on and the reality of the situation was all, no matter how many doors we were knocking on, Those shows were actually making more impact than we were on the ground because they were going into people’s, like, homes, into their living rooms and people fell in love with, you know, Jack or Kurt, or, you know, we can, we can discuss how they all look a certain way, that’s another, that’s a different story, but But it made queer folks, [00:34:30] like, real to a certain extent, and, and, um, and someone you cared about.

[00:34:35] And it’s much harder to, to pass laws that exclude or target people you care about. 

[00:34:44] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah. I’m thinking of like. You know, you know, like I said, coming from a labor background, started a union, you know, had to do all the fight to win the union, etc. Um, and feeling like every single time I see even an inkling of [00:35:00] that type of story being represented, I get so excited and like, I come alive because it like, in a way validates.

[00:35:06] like the fight that I’m having on the ground every single day. And I mean, it like does seem that Hollywood is like somewhat open to diversity and representation and stories, but only so long as it’s not disruptive to like a neoliberal, like class conscious kind of status quo. And so they’re like a handful of TV episodes and movies about labor organizing, solidarity or strikes.

[00:35:28] you know, that I remember from my [00:35:30] childhood, you know, in the 90s, but I rarely see, like, stories about community or labor organizing as a plot point or resolution, even, um, in those, like, you know, stories that we do have representation today. Um, I’m thinking about a couple. You know, standouts. I remember one episode of Empire where they wanted to unionize at the, you know, at the, at the studio.

[00:35:53] I remember, you know, obviously, Sorry to Bother You and Boots Riley. Totally like, you know, just communist plot and like, so [00:36:00] good. But I wonder like Is that something, like, we want to see more of? And, like, if so, like, I mean, I know I do, if so, would studios even greenlight, like, those type of stories, do you think?

[00:36:10] Angela Harvey: I mean, I think you could get a show like that made today, but it would take a lot of star power. Like, it would, it would not be easy. But not for lack of trying, I will say, I think that even before this, Strike, you had a lot of writers who, we’ve been very pro [00:36:30] union for a long time, but like, you know, they’re calling this hot strike summer, a hot labor summer.

[00:36:35] You saw a lot of blue t shirts out there at the hotels. You saw a lot of blue t shirts out there when, when UPS was fighting for their contract. Even today there’s a blue t shirts out there with Kaiser. So I think you’re seeing a lot of people who, who write film and TV for a living. Getting bit with that labor bug and it’s It is time for solidarity, whether or [00:37:00] not we’ll be able to get those shows over the studio line is one thing.

[00:37:03] Um, I do think, I do think we’re going to also see a rise of independent film coming out of this strike. I think we’re going to see a lot more, I hope, you know, I guess knock on wood, that we’re going to see some independent projects gaining traction. So maybe on that front, we’ll see some more of that.

[00:37:21] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: I do think there’s a bigger conversation about what gets greenlit, you know, versus what moves forward versus what doesn’t. And, you [00:37:30] know, I think there’s been a lot of changes going on in the industry that have actually, you know, nothing to do with the strike. Um, but we’ve, we have seen, I think there, there, I think there was a heyday of more quote unquote niche content that.

[00:37:45] Allowed many of us to feel seen and, and to see stories that rarely get the opportunity to, to get on. But a lot of what we’re hearing now is there’s kind of a move back to this kind of broader appeal, uh, kind of [00:38:00] TV, which is, is scary. Cause Broad appeal also, it feels like it’s code for, for not you.

[00:38:12] Bianca Cunningham: No, that makes a lot of sense. And like, it’s so surprising to me because like, like you all said, like there have been like, like really great stories, you know, um, with great representation and you name, you all named some of the, you know, the projects that are out now. But I’m thinking of just like. You know, uh, things like Atlanta, [00:38:30] right?

[00:38:30] That did, I feel like, in my mind, were really, you know, popular and told, like, real stories of, like, Black joy. But it’s funny to me to hear you all say that, like, and I know this, like, to be true, but I’m just so surprised, like, the media still struggles to live up to more than just a few of the goals that, like, for instance, like, you all and Ty have set out.

[00:38:47] And it’s storytelling, like, it’s, like, the, the, the, the, the, the, the, the, They can hit one point, but maybe not all of them. I’m assuming that you all are okay with that and that you all are organizing to change that. Um, and you want to see stories that go further as [00:39:00] writers return. Um, and new shows are pitched, but besides like independent media, like what in your mind needs to happen in order for like those goals to be reached?

[00:39:11] Angela Harvey: I think we are, we’re just in such a turmoil. point in the country, but also in this industry where literally the sky is kind of falling. I do think that this would be a great time for the studios to take some big swings and [00:39:30] see what people want to see. But to Tawal’s point, I think the reaction instead has been to retreat to the tried and true.

[00:39:39] So, you know, I don’t know. We see big networks up for sale. Like, I’d be interested to see if Byron Allen does by ABC, what kind of programming ends up there. But right now it’s in the hands of Disney, who Bob Iger has already said, I’m going to be quieting the culture wars. Um, at [00:40:00] this point, I’m not trying to sound doom and gloom, but I just feeling we have to hold on until the storm is over.

[00:40:09] Um, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not, that we’re going to stop trying. Like there’s a lot of, I have, I have a couple of pitches right now that I’ve like talked about stories in the global South and like, uh, just people of color being, being bad ass. So, you know, we’ll keep pitching them and we’ll keep trying to sell them and get them over the finish line.

[00:40:29] And [00:40:30] it’s always, it’s always so difficult to get a show made. That’s what I think, you know, if you’re Donald Glover with, you know, 30 Rock and all those other things under your belt, then things open up. And there are a number of us, you know, there’s Ava, there’s, you know, Taika Waititi. There are a number of us who have a little bit more leeway to get things on the air.

[00:40:53] So, um, I don’t think it’s going to be a desert, but I don’t think we’re necessarily going to [00:41:00] see like a flood of amazing programming right now. 

[00:41:04] Bianca Cunningham: Okay, that’s good to know. Uh, Twal, you want to add anything to that? 

[00:41:09] Angela Harvey: Yeah, I 

[00:41:09] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: mean, as Angel said, it’s hard, period, trying to sell something and taking it all the way to the finish line.

[00:41:17] But, uh, I think, I mean, the challenge is, look, we can’t make, you can’t force anyone to buy anything. Right. People are going to buy what they’re going to buy. I think the way, really, as [00:41:30] writers, all we can do is, is, and this is something I tell myself all the time, also just to kind of drown out the anxiety, is just write what you love and that passion will take you through.

[00:41:41] Um, and then meanwhile, you know, at TIE, I think we do a lot of work in trying to build allies and allyship within the studios and with the executives. Um, so building up, you know, an appetite to, um, to understand the stories that we want to tell. But yeah, I think you just got to keep plugging ahead. That’s, you know, [00:42:00] this industry is tough.

[00:42:01] You just got to keep plugging ahead and moving forward. 

[00:42:04] Bianca Cunningham: Yeah. And for consumers of media, like me, who go through, who have gone through points in my life where I feel like they’re, I see myself really well represented on screen and there’s like a ton of shows like in the nineties and then you kind of go through like maybe five and six year droughts, it seems like that seems to be the cycle of like.

[00:42:23] Some good programming and then they kind of back up from it and then you might see like flashes in the pan later on down the line. [00:42:30] So thank you for the, the, the forecast of the doom and gloom about the show.

[00:42:38] Because now I know I’m not missing, I won’t be missing much. But you know, I wonder if you could talk about like what are you optimistic about? Like what are some things you’re looking forward to coming off this like historic strike? But like even thinking like Five, 10 years down the line. Like, what are you all like looking forward to or optimistic about, if anything, in the, in the entertainment industry, [00:43:00] 

[00:43:00] Angela Harvey: I do think that we are going to see in the longterm.

[00:43:02] I do think we’re going to see. better stories, more inclusive stories coming out. Um, I think that, you know, as these streamers realize that, oh no, we broke a model and it’s, you know, reform themselves into ad supported cable television, they’re going to see that, um, inclusive stories make money. Like, um, what was that?

[00:43:27] A year, year or two ago, McKinsey report came [00:43:30] out. So this industry leaves 10 billion a year on the table every year just by not telling black stories. 

[00:43:35] Bianca Cunningham: I read that too. 

[00:43:36] Angela Harvey: One community. Yeah. So, you know, report after report comes out and tells them, these are the stories that are going to make you money. They just haven’t.

[00:43:46] Started to believe it yet. I do think though that some of these allies that we’re working with now who are at, you know, the VP, the SVP level, they’re going to get up to the highest ranks where they’re going to start being able to green light things and, [00:44:00] um, things will change just at a much slower pace than we would like them to.

[00:44:06] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: Yeah. I think that’s particularly exciting to, you know, that a lot of the execs are, or, you know, are progressively moving up the ranks and hopefully we’ll get into the place where they can. Really make some impact. One other thing I’m excited about is really kind of the it feels like there’s a new kind of radicalized [00:44:30] generation that’s coming out of this hot labor summer, and it’s not just Hollywood, but really across the board, it feels like there’s this really growing sentiment that workers need to share in the wealth that we’re creating for all these companies.

[00:44:51] And so that, that’s really exciting to see, and hopefully there will be some sort of reckoning and change in, in how corporate [00:45:00] America works and what they’re demanding from folks, um, and what folks are getting. 

[00:45:06] Angela Harvey: Yeah, you know, that reminds me of your question about A. I. and whether or not the writers, um, deal on A.

[00:45:12] I. as pattern for teamsters and other laborers. It’s stressful that it needs to be looked at in that way, honestly. There should be legislation about A. I. And when you look at the actors, how is it not a basic human right that an individual owns their likeness and their voice? [00:45:30] These are larger governmental issues and questions that need to be addressed on a governmental level.

[00:45:39] And it’s sad that we’re looking to the Writer’s Guild and to SAG to break the ground on these things. But that’s where we are at the moment. So I hope that they do provide some sort of foundation, some sort of groundwork for other Other laborers, but we do have [00:46:00] to come together as the people because the government is clearly not up to the task in 

[00:46:05] Bianca Cunningham: this moment.

[00:46:06] Yeah, I totally agree. It seems like the government’s always, like, behind with, like, technology, um, and being able to, like, rein it in, and kind of already runs the muck, and then they try to rein it in later. I mean, even with the Teamsters that I mentioned, I do a lot of organizing work in Tennessee, and, you know, they put forward legislation You know, in lobbied against, um, you know, the platooning bill that would have said you could have one driver in a in a [00:46:30] semi automatic truck and have 18 trucks behind that with no drivers.

[00:46:35] And we had to make the case about safety and everything else. But it seems like those are happening in like a piecemeal way. And to your point, Angela, it’s like past time for like them to like just deal with like AI comprehensively across all sectors and just ensure that like people like, you know, have the rights that you know, we should.

[00:46:53] Around that so Yeah, we’re all fighting the good fight, I guess. Um, [00:47:00] but, um, things definitely should be different. And I’m glad that you’re optimistic that, you know, people are having like some, some, some sort of like class conscious reckoning right now. Um, and I think it’s been building in my, in my mind, you know, for the last you know, 10 to 15 years.

[00:47:16] Um, but you know, we are living in like, you know, really expensive times, really dire times for a lot of people, but also like, uh, really exciting where it seems like, you know, I think what’s the quote of like Audre Lorde, like the old world is burning [00:47:30] and the new world is struggling to be, you know, born.

[00:47:32] And so I definitely feel like that’s like the moment that we’re in right now. And because of organizing like the the work that you all are doing is like pushing that forward. And so thanks so much for all the work that you’ve done and inspiring. Um, so many people to stand up. 

[00:47:49] Angela Harvey: Thank you. Yeah, I’m really proud to be part of it.

[00:47:52] Bianca Cunningham: Any other things you want us to know that you want people to know about the work that you do or, [00:48:00] um, you know, issues? It doesn’t even have to be necessarily around the strike. Anything else that you feel like we didn’t cover? Just want to give you opportunity to have last words. I 

[00:48:11] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: mean, I think If any last word, I just think that, uh, this industry is tough, like, but, you know, at least to other writers out there, you know, just do what you love.

[00:48:24] It’s, it’s worth it, you know, despite all that, despite all the struggles and the hoops you got to [00:48:30] jump through, it’s, it’s still a great industry and there’s opportunity to be had. 

[00:48:34] Angela Harvey: Yeah. I’ll just underscore your closing point, Bianca, about, um, a new day. Trying to break through and that is the moment that we’re in and it is it is easy to look around and like everything is terrible But also like Everything’s on the table to be changed and to be challenged And so now it’s the moment to [00:49:00] push in for everyone on the the thing that they are passionate about whether that be the environment or maybe it’s gun control or maybe it’s Writing your stories, you know, push in on that thing that gives you passion.

[00:49:13] And this is the moment that everything can change. 

[00:49:16] Bianca Cunningham: I’m so glad you said that because actually I was just thinking like, I’m an organizer, I’m all about next steps and like how to activate. I’m just wondering like, what can like us as consumers who like are not a part of Writers Guild of America or maybe not in the [00:49:30] entertainment industry, what are ways that we can support like the change?

[00:49:33] Because I feel like it’s something that like we all want to see. Is there anything that we can do as consumers? Besides, of course, stand on the picket line and, you know, be in solidarity. Yeah. What are other things that we could do? We 

[00:49:45] Angela Harvey: did get a lot of solidarity. We did get a lot of people just showing up to walk with us.

[00:49:49] And I, yeah, I really appreciated that. All the people at the Writers Guild appreciated that. In terms of, like, historically excluded writers, historically excluded content, I cannot [00:50:00] stress enough. Push play, like Tyrone came out and like, people didn’t watch it. Like, I mean, I don’t know. The streamers lie with their data all the time.

[00:50:14] So maybe, maybe everybody watched it, but like we, it, it is very, very difficult to get these projects made on a streamer or in a theater. Buy a ticket, show up, even if you don’t go. I have [00:50:30] definitely seen a movie that I was like, Ooh, that’s too scary. I’m not going to see it. But did I buy a ticket? Yes, I did.

[00:50:35] I bought the ticket. So show up to what you want to see more of. That’s great advice. 

[00:50:42] Bianca Cunningham: Tuol, you have anything to add? I mean, 

[00:50:45] Tawal Panyacosit Jr.: I, that was literally what I was going to say too. And, and talk about it, crow about it. Yes. Social media or to your friends, like social media is actually democratize fandom a little bit, um, [00:51:00] in a way.

[00:51:00] And their fans are, are, are able to be much more vocal and have a lot more power, I think, now than they ever did before. Um, so it’s, it makes it that much more important to be vocal about the shows that you love and why you want more of them and, you know, watch them and talk about 

[00:51:17] Bianca Cunningham: them. Watch them and talk about them.

[00:51:19] I love that. You heard it, folks. Press play and get online and talk about it. That seems easy enough. My thanks again to Angela Harvey and to Wal Pena Cosette Jr. for [00:51:30] joining me. If you’d like to learn more about Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, there’s a link in the show notes. Black Work Talk is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights.

[00:51:40] If you haven’t already subscribed, be sure to do so to catch future episodes when they drop and leave a review wherever you listen. You can support the show by becoming a monthly patron for as low as 5 per month at patreon. com slash Black Work Talk. Executive producer for Black Work Talk is Xiomara Copeno, [00:52:00] and Josh Elstro is our producer.

[00:52:02] I’m Bianca Cunningham.

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