Meeting of the Minds

October 1, 2007

Meeting of the Minds was held at the Jewish Community Center in New York City, on October 1, 2007. The event was co-sponsored by Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild of America, East (WGA, East), and Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts.

The evening was moderated by Adam Moore (Associate National Director of Affirmative Action/Diversity, SAG) and discussion leaders included: Christine Bruno (Disability Advocate, Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts); David Steven Cohen (Writer/Producer; Council, WGA, East); Nancy Giles (Writer/Contributor, CBS News Sunday Morning; Member, Equal Employment Opportunities and National Board Member, SAG); Mike Hodge (Chair of the NY Ethnic Employment Opportunities Committee and National Board Member, Screen Actors Guild); Rodney Stringfellow (Writer; WGA, East) and Diana Son (Executive Producer, Law & Order: Criminal Intent; Playwright).

The event was designed as a forum for SAG performers to have access to WGA writers and WGA writers to have access to SAG performers. The panel and audience engaged in an open dialogue about the challenges writers face when writing about diversity and the hurdles experienced by performers of color and those with disabilities.

Writers on the panel addressed a range of issues, including permission in writing, writing authentic characters and stories, and employment for writers.  SAG panelists discussed the need for increased visibility and opportunity, as well as areas of expectation and assumptions placed on them while acknowledging the onus of accurate representation and portrayal.

The main topics of the evening from which several subtopics emerged were:

  • the depiction of society in the media;
  • the responsibility of the writer to accurately reflect the world around him/her; and
  • how can performers and writers work together to get their stories told, accurately and authentically?

I. All agreed that the media has the power to reflect society and that white male remains the “standard” in the industry.

  • “standard” vs. inclusion – the dichotomy that exists between the traditional view of society as white and nondisabled and the reality of what the country actually looks like.
  • One of the media’s responsibilities should be to break perceptions and stereotypes, since most view society through the lens of the media.
  • Because the industry continues to embrace a primarily white, nondisabled aesthetic, individual artists from underrepresented groups often feel the onus is on them to be a representative for a group, of something larger than themselves.
  • How can we as artists continue toward shifting the traditional view toward a more inclusive and accurate view of the American scene?

II. What is the writer’s job and what hurdles to do they face?

  • The job of the writer is to write about the spectrum of humanity. “As artists, are we a reflector or a detector of what’s going on in society?” The panel stressed that good writing is key, which raised the issue of permission. Who is entitled to write what? Most writers work their way up the ladder to executive producer, from having very little power to decision maker. Writers (and performers) should be able to cross lines of ethnicity, gender, and disability. If a writer wants to write about a world about which he/she is unfamiliar, seek out those who have that lived experience. The point was raised that the “shift the norm” begins with the writer.

III. Moving forward toward a more accurate and authentic representation of our society and increasing opportunities for writers and performers of underrepresented groups.

  • What can performers do to get access to writers and develop projects?
  • How can performers and writers collaborate to tell their stories?
  • What resources are out there to help get these stories told?
  • Everyone present expressed an interest in moving forward and inviting SAG, WGA, East and the Alliance to explore ways to bring people together, performers who want to tell their stories and writers who want to continue to expand the diversity of what they write about.

An audience member summed up the evening this way: “Human comes before black, white, female, disability…The bottom line is, we’re all human…and what makes things really interesting is, within that, when you look for the uniqueness.”

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