You have a story to tell, and your goal is to tell the best story possible. This means developing your script, finding writer(s) (if you don’t already have them), or staffing all or part of the writers’ room.
How will you find the right people to attach to your project? We suggest asking the following questions:
Q: What skills or experiences are essential to bringing the story to life?
Establish the skill set needed to fill the position. Specify the types of credits, experience, education, samples, fellowships, labs, point of view, and/or other publications needed as evidence of skills or abilities. Think experience and skills, not specific names. Why? It’s natural to gravitate toward the people you’ve worked with in the past and who you already trust. But hiring only known commodities means you’re likely dismissing viable, talented people who may not already be on your radar. It also means that you may not have properly vetted the first people who come to mind if the names arise without scrutiny.
Q: What authentic representation is needed in the story, based on the main characters or location?
On the important issue of whose story is being told, the question becomes whether the writer’s lived experience needs to match or be informed by their gender, race/ethnicity, sexuality, disability, or other factors.
The Policy states that: Each film or series with a creative team of three or more people in above-the-line roles (Directors, Writers, Producers) should ideally include a minimum 30% women and 30% members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. These aspirational goals will increase to 50% by 2024. On creative teams with fewer than three people, we prefer that at least one Writer, Director, or Producer be a woman and/or a member of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. A single team member can fulfill one or more of these identities.
The intent of the Policy is to help ensure that you have authentic representation within the creative team for your production. Where there is room to hire in the writers’ room or additional creative support, think about the gaps in representation – perhaps even those beyond this list (e.g. LGBTQ+ or disability) – that will help improve the authenticity of the storytelling.
Customers may call out a lack of authenticity in the writing or directing process, and that can hurt audience engagement. The National Research Group #Representation Matters study revealed that “four in five Black Americans think it’s obvious when a character of color wasn’t written by someone of that race.” As such, it’s not surprising when stories face backlash due to the writer or director lacking the perspective of the central characters (e.g., Bombshell, Aladdin, and Mulan).
Here are ideas for expanding your search to ensure you have a variety of perspectives:
A) Talk with your creative executives, and the Amazon Studios DEI Team! We have relationships with writers from all backgrounds who may meet your needs, and are constantly expanding our networks.
B) If you ask agents or managers for a list of clients, make sure you share the skill sets you have identified as important, and indicate that you would like to consider a range people of all genders, those from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, and other attributes of diversity. If the agent or manager asks for targets, indicate that the list should approximately reflect the population of the country, based on the latest Census figures.
C) The Writers Guild of America database features writers by gender, race/ethnicity, disability, LGBTQ+ and other identity groups.
D) The Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity lists writers by race/ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, LGBTQ+, and more.
E) Some festivals nurture writer/directors. Explore the list of writers and their projects in the independent space over the last five years, and examine the types of stories they are telling. As an example, check out the Sundance Institute Inclusion Resource Map for a variety of screenwriting labs attached to festival organizations, non-profits, and educational institutions.
G) Many industry groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations have also culled lists of writers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences:
Q: What should I do if my writer is lacking personal experience or depth with the journey of the main characters?
Many of the groups listed above have staff that can serve in a consulting capacity and provide authenticity and nuance to the storyline. Think in advance about how you will pay consultants as well as credit them on the film or series (see WGA guidelines for writers, PGA for producers).
For stories steeped in fandom, writers should spend time not only with consultants, but with online communities to learn about the experiences of different groups. Message framing within fandom can be implicitly or explicitly biased. As such, it is important to explore and engage with as many voices as possible to learn the perspective of and understand the values and concerns of different groups. This way, you can decrease the likelihood of causing unnecessary harm.
Telling Authentic & Inclusive Stories
It’s important to remember the key components of authentic and inclusive storytelling, and avoid common pitfalls when it comes to stereotypes and tropes. All writers – no matter their background or lived experience – have areas to learn and grow and all content has an opportunity to surprise and delight, as well as misfire with customers.
Q. How do I avoid negative stereotypes, dehumanizing language, and slurs in content creation?
Stereotypes are a valuable cognitive tool which writers often use to help a story move quickly. Some stereotypes are based on aspects of truth or reality. However, stereotypes are problematic when they are one-sided depictions, common tropes, or an extreme version of a group. To learn more, watch author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discuss "The Danger of a Single Story".