Connect sits down with LWC leaders to mark Latinx Heritage Month.


Latinx Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the contributions of Latinx people to American society. In Hollywood, where Latinx writers face systemic barriers to employment, advocates argue that the community has untapped potential for much greater cultural influence. The WGAW Latinx Writers Committee (LWC) is one group looking to unleash that potential. As Latinx writers continue to knock at opportunity’s door, the LWC is focused on giving them the tools to succeed once they get a foothold.

“Our committee is made up of over 200 Latinx film and TV writers, and we have many at the lower levels who are entering the Guild through a fellowship program, or getting promoted, or staffing for the first time,” says LWC Co-chair Danny Tolli. “It’s all wonderful and exciting but what ends up happening is, at the end of their 20 weeks, they’re not asked back and then they’re forced to repeat levels. We have one writer who was stuck repeating staff writer for five shows.

“Part of that is due to the economics of the industry changing, and lower-level writers not getting opportunities to cover set and gain producing experience,” Tolli continues. “Another component is the systemic racism that members of the Latinx community have historically encountered. We can’t fix the larger issue within the Latinx Writers Committee, but we can empower our members to go into any room with all of the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to succeed.”

In order to increase access to jobs for its members, the committee organizes two marquee programs: meet-and-greets with showrunners and development executives, and the Showrunner Sit Down series. At the meet-and-greets, members introduce themselves, network, and ask career-related questions of the showrunners and executives who participate. At the Showrunner Sit Down events, a showrunner (Latinx or not) is invited to speak to the committee members about their own career trajectory, successes, and missteps, and members can ask very specific questions about being in writers’ rooms, being on set, how to handle post, and other unspoken rules of the business.

Using the connections and knowledge gained at these events, members have been staffed and made sales. One member reported a better relationship with a producer after applying the insights they learned at a Showrunner Sit Down.

Showrunners have reacted with similar enthusiasm. As Tolli describes, “Showrunners and upper-level writers are excited to be meeting with Latinx writers with experience and talent, who are ready not just to staff but to run their own shows.”

As LWC Co-chair Evette Vargas explains, “The objective of our events is to put a Latinx writer in front of a buyer, a hirer, and a creator. As a result, many members of our committee have established meaningful relationships with showrunners, executives, and producers.”

As of late, the LWC has approached its goal of empowering members in some unexpected ways. In June of this year, the LWC organized a three-part workshop series on colorism—prejudice against individuals with darker skin within the same racial or ethnic group—in collaboration with anti-racism group Soul Focused. Though the issue is often considered in the context of casting of BIPOC characters, the goal of the series was to support the personal development of Latinx writers by exploring how they can sometimes be both the victims and perpetrators of bias. Participants in the series workshopped constructive and actionable approaches to both scenarios.

“The idea was to look inward at how our own Latinx communities can sometimes be the perpetrators of bias in order to metaphorically ‘get our house in order’ before we go out and champion ourselves to the rest of the world,” says LWC Vice Chair Jorge Rivera, who spearheaded the effort. “Obviously, we didn't solve everything in those three sessions—you can't in just three sessions—but we started a very valuable and constructive discussion. I think everyone left a little changed. I think everyone who participated is going to go out into the world and operate a bit more consciously.”

“We’re reaching a point where we really are trying to be vocal about stories by us, about us, for us,” adds Tolli. “Don’t just bring us in for authenticity passes. And to that end, we are definitely having a reckoning within our community toward the intersectional nature of what it means to be Latinx.”

In the spirit of reckoning, the LWC is planning an upcoming event, “Solving the People Problem,” which will bring together senior writers and producers to delve into the managerial and interpersonal issues (including bias) that surface in writers’ rooms, on sets, and for writers at all levels. Panelists will give practical advice on communication techniques, managing conflict, and what studios and networks are doing to create accountability. Confirmed speakers include writer Justin Marks (The Jungle Book) and producer Jordan Horowitz (La La Land), though the panel is still in formation.

Vargas expounds, “When you're a writer, writer-producer, or even a high-level writer, regardless of what level you are at in the writers’ room, there are people problems. So how do you deal, right? How do you create a space where people feel safe enough to express what the problems are without fearing getting fired, or worse, blacklisted?”

Vargas hopes the upcoming event will give Latinx members new survival tactics to navigate the industry. “When you are a writer of color on a staff, or just period, oftentimes you're the only one.”

Despite the progress made in recent years, Latinx writers are grossly underrepresented in the entertainment industry. According to the 2020 WGAW Inclusion Report, an estimated 4.7% of screenwriters and 8.7% of TV writers are Latinx. (In comparison, Latinx people currently make up 18.5% of the US population and 48.6% of the population of LA County.) The report also found that, while the share of writers of color grew by five percentage points in the 2019–2020 season, the majority of those gains in television were at the middle and lower levels, and 82% of showrunners were still white. Furthermore, according to UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report 2021: Pandemic in Progress, among the top 185 English-language films released in 2020, about 3% of credited writers were Latinx.

The leaders of the LWC attribute this reality to bias among decision-makers at all levels.

“So, who hires underrepresented writers?” asks Rivera. “Showrunners who are from underrepresented groups, right? And not so much other people outside of that group. So if our allies are willing to break through their cycles of thinking and hire more [underrepresented] people, promote more people up the ladder, and take the chance of going outside of their comfort zone instead of hiring someone they know or have worked with, we'll have more people at the top that can hire more people. So, it's about breaking those cycles of bias. And I'm not just pointing my finger at people who are outside of the underrepresented groups. I think everyone has some degree of unconscious bias and we all have to make some effort to transcend it.”

Latinx people are also critically absent from executive roles at major studios and networks. Dr. Ana-Christina Ramón, an author of the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Reports, testified to this before the California Assembly Select Committee on Latina Inequities in April. She found that across 11 major and mid-major film studios, none of the film executives were Latinx. Among TV executives at 74 studios and networks, none of the CEOs, 1% of executives in senior management, and less than 2% of executives at the unit head level were Latinx.

“You need people of color at the top who really can influence the top and have power. Currently, those numbers are very small, especially Latinx executives,” says Vargas.

Despite the bleak statistics, the writers of the LWC are undeterred. They have seen the positive outcomes of their work, and demographic changes in the country point to a future with more expansive and nuanced storytelling from the Latinx community. According to a 2020 report from Nielsen, Latinx people contribute more to US population growth than any other group and will reach $2.3 trillion in buying power by 2024. Latinx households were more likely than US households overall to have at least one SVOD subscription and, since the start of the pandemic, 70% of the Latinx people surveyed said they had increased the amount of time spent watching movies or series on SVOD. Latinx writers could be the key to capturing this audience.

As Rivera says, “The country is changing and our business should reflect that—our Guild should reflect that—and it's nothing to be afraid of.”

Learn more about the Latinx Writers Committee by visiting its contact page on the WGAW website. While not affiliated with any other advocacy organization, the LWC acknowledges the community effort made by the many groups dedicated to elevating Latinx artists in the industry, such as NosotrosNALIPUntitled Latinx Project, La Lista, La Mesa, and The Clubhouse.