Do you know what phrase I despise? “That’s just how it is.” I especially dislike when it’s used to refer to things that writers — particularly new writers — are expected to put up with in hopes of furthering their careers. Things like:
- Abusive showrunners/executives
- Sexual harassment/assault
- Racist work environments
- Insanely long workdays
- Laughable pay that’s nowhere near a living wage as the companies that hire you make millions
You’ve gotta pay your dues, right? But why should you have to wait for the respect that you deserve today?
Turns out, you shouldn’t.
The best thing about the current moment (which started long before the pandemic, but quarantine has forced us to sit with it for a few months) is the realization that we shouldn’t be so quick to “get back to normal.” “Normal” never worked for most people, and it’s no longer something we have to put up with. The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, along with the global pandemic have reshaped almost every aspect of how we live and work. Here are a few lessons that writers in Hollywood can learn from this important moment and how we can push the entertainment industry forward.
Table of Contents
What #MeToo teaches writers: Stand up for yourself
It’s hard to speak up when you think you’re “the only one” going through something. But now, thanks to social media and quality investigative journalism, we know that too many writers in our industry have dealt with abuse at the hands of powerful people. Even worse, a lot of people adjacent to power didn’t do enough to stop it. Now, people are more likely than ever to take allegations seriously and be less patient with abuse. It’s crucial that all of us entering the entertainment industry continue that momentum.
If we experience workplace abuse, we need to make it public, scary as that might be. If “open secrets” are going to be a thing of the past, we need to do our part to create an environment where that behavior won’t stand. And if anyone gives you the ol’ “you’ll never work in this town again” to threaten you into silence, remember that there are also non-abusers with the power to employ you. Abusers wouldn’t try to silence you if your voice weren’t powerful and equally scary to them. Use it.
Lessons from Black Lives Matter: Stand up for others
For many in this industry, myself included, it took the back-to-back deaths of Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, along with the subsequent protests for them to truly understand that it isn’t enough to “not be racist.” We have to be actively anti-racist. It has to be at the front of our minds in everything we do.
This extends across all intersections. It’s not enough to say that you’re inclusive. We have to make sure that we are actively and vocally inclusive in any room in which we find ourselves. In addition to standing up for yourself, it’s crucial that you stand up for others.
What writers can learn from COVID-19: All workers are “essential”
Workers deserve respect. This shouldn’t be news. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t give delivery workers, grocery store clerks, or even non-doctor hospital staff a second thought. It took a global pandemic for us to recognize the value of people doing support work.
In Hollywood, that’s translated to efforts like #PayUpHollywood, which shines a light on how little assistants in this town get paid to work long hours, often for abusive or oblivious bosses. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that no one can accomplish anything worthwhile on their own. We need each other, and we need to respect the contributions of everyone around us.
- Know your worth and don’t take a full-time job that doesn’t pay a living wage
- Never pay for something work-related out of your own pocket
- While it’s good to show initiative, you deserve “off-time.” No one in Hollywood needs someone to be “on-call.” They’re not surgeons
- If you see a job posting that includes the words “must have a thick skin,” run the other way. Huge red flag. They’re basically telling you that taking abuse is part of the job. Nope.
What writers can learn from #MeToo, BLM, and the Pandemic
The world is a different place than it was last year. Together, we have the power to create an industry where we want to work for years to come. Either we can sigh and complain about “how it is,” or we can demand how it should be.
I vote for the latter.
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Teresa Jusino is a native New Yorker and a proud bisexual, Puerto Rican, Jewish woman on her way to winning Intersectionality Bingo. Most recently, Jusino has done development work on several feature film projects at Jill Soloway’s Topple Productions after building a nearly decade-long career in pop culture journalism, including a three-year stint as an editor at the feminist pop culture site, The Mary Sue. In 2018, Jusino launched Pomonok Entertainment, a production banner that incorporates a mission of alleviating homelessness in L.A. into the larger mission of telling engaging, thought-provoking, inclusive stories.