More Aliens than Asians on Screen: White-Washing Ghost in the Shell

by Kathryn Graham

This month, Ghost in the Shell will be released with Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, cast as Japanese character: Major Motoko Kusanagi. This is a process known as ‘white-washing’: Hollywood’s long-standing racist practice of casting white actors as characters of color.

In the 1930’s, we had ‘yellowface’: ‘Predictably, Asian Americans actors would spend most of the war years cast as sinister Japanese, often in films now viewed with some embarrassment. There were still “good Asian” roles being written–but they were restricted to Caucasian actors while Asian Americans played the villains.’

In 2017, we have white-washing, which is not the same thing, but still casts white people in roles that should have been Asian roles. The result: there are almost no roles for Asians on screen even in stories where the characters in the source material were Asian.

Chloe Tze: The University of California School of Journalism put out this study. There was a report that said less than 4.5% of Asians were on screen in speaking roles over the span of six years. So we’re not represented. You’re more likely to see an alien on screen than an Asian female. (Queer Women of Color Panel @ ClexaCon 2017)

NPR: Hollywood Has a Major Diversity Problem Study Finds

Why? There’s a whole raft of reasons why, but here’s a small snapshot: Writers aren’t writing roles for people of Asian descent. In the rare cases when we are, they’re being given to Caucasians.

When asked about the controversy surrounding her casting, Scarlett Johansson told Marie Claire magazine:

“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

But, much as I love ScarJo, she is playing a character of another race, which is a problem precisely because there is so little inclusion in Hollywood. Kusanagi is a distinctly Japanese name. This is a Japanese character.

She’s right that there is a dearth of films with female protagonists. The same NPR study above shows that only one third of female characters on screen have speaking roles (let alone leading roles). Combine that with the incredibly low instance of Asians in speaking roles, and despite her intentions and her personal desires, Johansson has usurped a role where an Asian woman should have been cast.

But this is more on the casting director than it is on the actress. So, what did Steven Paul, a producer on the film, have to say about this choice to white-wash the movie?

“I don’t think it was just a Japanese story,” Paul told BuzzFeed. “Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.”

Basically: this story isn’t focused on Japan exclusively, so therefore we cast a white woman as a clearly Japanese character.

Is anyone buying this?

This isn’t a new defense of a white-washed movie. M. Night Shyamalan said the same thing about his choice to white-wash the Asian cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

“Here’s the thing. The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime.” – M. Night Shyamalan

I mean, who could tell that Aang was a Tibetan monk, Katara and Sokka were Innuits, and Zuko was Japanese? Anyone with eyes. Anyone who watched the show. And also…

The creators of the original cartoon: Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino.

The thing is: Avatar was not an anime. It was an American cartoon in the vein of anime. Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino had a blueprint for how they created their characters – and that blueprint was distinctly based on Asian culture. It’s not like Shymalan had to guess. His excuses, like always when a movie is white-washed, don’t hold water.

Even though the creators of Ghost in the Shell back the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson, and even though I doubt these decisions were made on purpose to harm Asians, the impact stays the same: another clearly Japanese character will be played by a Caucasian actor. Regardless of intent, this film is now a part of the history of American white-washing.

It’s worth thinking about this both if you’re considering seeing this movie and when you sit down to write your own stories. What are you doing to combat this? Are you writing Asian or Asian American characters into your shows in an ethical way? Are you bolstering stories by Asian creators? Informing people about this issue? Sharing this and/or many other articles?

Update: For a spot of good news, Disney looks to be doing it right with their upcoming live action Mulan movie! All-Asian cast and a female director? I’m in.


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about Kate HERE

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon: Part II

Ethics of Storytelling at ClexaCon: Continued from Part 1 

About that writers’ room, how does that factor into ethical storytelling? What is the role of a showrunner? How much do an author’s intentions and opinions matter? And is anyone on TV writing queer female characters ethically?

Ethics in Storytelling Panel

Dr. Elizabeth Bridges – Literature Professor & Writer – The Uncanny Valley

Gretchen Ellis – Linguist, Storyteller, Critic – The Ranconteur

Heather Hogan – Senior Editor Autostraddle.com

Moderator Question: TV relies on a collaborative writers’ room, so what kinds of problems does that lead to?

Elizabeth

This is another one where I’d like to bring in a historical perspective because I think that obviously television is a collaborative medium. There is no such thing as the singular auteur, artiste that makes television because there has to be a writers’ room. There have to be different people contributing. Editors. Actors. You name it.

There was a panel at ATX called ‘Bury Your Tropes’. I found that really disappointing. Javier Grillo-Marxuach was the only one who had anything progressive to say. Everybody but Javi on that panel stuck with this idea of the ‘singular artistic vision’.

This idea of artistic integrity is rooted in the idea of the artist that we inherited from the Renaissance. That’s when the artist was the painter, the sculptor, and that’s when artists started signing their name to works. That’s when we developed this idea of the artist with a singular vision with a divine gift from God, and that’s where we get our idea of the artist.

Fastforward to 2016 or 2017, and these showrunners have inherited this idea of the artist, and they see themselves as these folks with a divine gift and singular vision. They probably don’t say it like that in their minds, but that’s the cultural idea we have.

Heather

I mean they do say it. I mean even Rothenberg was: “Well I thought I was going to do it differently.” You see that in writers’ rooms, especially when it’s a male showrunner, like: I thought my thing was going to be so different from the other 175 lesbian/bisexual characters that were killed.

Then when you have women showrunners like Ilene Chaiken (Empire), their whole thing is ‘I’m a lesbian so I can kill whoever I want’.

Elizabeth

Still the trope.

Heather

Right? Then you have Ryan Murphy who’s the combination of both of those things. ‘I’m a gay man so I can just piss on literally everybody.’

Gretchen

We see artists say it all the time. They say: This is my story, and I need to tell it. I need to be true to my story. I need to be true to my vision. I have a lot of very choice words I won’t say here for people who say that. Because it’s nonsense.

You are crafting a story for an audience. You are making a story that people will watch. Especially with television, the point of television is to make money for the network. This isn’t just: I am an artist painting my work of art that hopefully one day will end up in a museum.

They’re creating media that exists to entertain and interact with the audience. In terms of that, they’re imposing a vision and a perception of art that doesn’t fit in this medium. Film and television are not the same as a single person creating a single work of art.

We cannot allow that conception to continue because it ends up with: they believe they don’t have to listen to their audience or even people in the same writers’ room.

Heather

Very simple solution to this problem is to put queer people, people of color, trans people, and non-binary people in your writers’ room. You need more than one black woman in a writers’ room because black women are not a monolith. You need a variety of voices.

Elizabeth

That’s what I mean about this model of the artist. Because at the ATX panel we had Ilene Chaiken saying: It’s okay because I’m a lesbian. No it’s not. So not only do we have to have this diverse team of people working on these projects, but then there also has a be a different model for how art is created.

Frankly, the one we inherited as the singular artiste is not a feminist model. So we need something that is truly collaborative. When you’re talking about something like One Day at a Time, I think we see the results of that. It’s been pretty successful.

People look to the person who authored a book or the showrunner to have an opinion about their own work. Back to literary studies, there’s this concept called the ‘death of the author’. It came along in the 1960’s – 70’s by this literary critic named Roland Barthes.

He talks about this idea that the opinion that an author has after releasing the work to the public is irrelevant because it’s just another opinion. What really matters is the response of the reader or the viewer because that is where the interaction takes place.

That’s where this dialogue takes place. It was meant for viewers. It was meant for readers. It doesn’t matter.

We can go back to JK Rowling talking about Dumbledore being gay. It’s like: That’s great. Where is it in the text?

Heather

The thing that’s made that infinitely worse is Twitter because a writer can just get on immediately after and say: ‘What I meant was…’ But you’re all: ‘Hey, that’s nice, but what I saw on my television was another lesbian getting shot with a stray bullet’.

Gretchen

On some level, I can acknowledge that you didn’t mean it the way I heard it, but this is how I heard it whether you meant it that way or not. What I want from you is to say: I am so sorry. I will do better next time.

From showrunners who did that, their reaction is: Let me explain to you why you should not have felt that way.

Heather

The other problem is, of the people who are watching your show, maybe half a percent are watching you on Twitter. So the cultural impact is there regardless of whether or not you apologize, because now it’s out in the wide world for people who are not part of the conversation. All they’re seeing is more dead queer characters.

The cultural impact goes so far beyond fandom. That’s the impact that really matters in a broader scheme because that impacts the people who are making legislation that is coming back to affect us.

To me the most remarkable thing to come out of Lexa’s death was the fact that places like Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety started paying attention and writing about this thing and interviewing queer people and calling it out as a problem.

In terms of Bury Your Gays, one of the huge successes around the movement around Lexa is there is no showrunner on earth can be like: I didn’t know Bury Your Gays existed.

So if you’re doing it, you’re doing it purposefully, knowing it hurts the community, and you’re doing it knowing the backlash is coming your way.

The justification for so long was: Now we have so many characters, and marriage equality is a thing, and Obama’s going to change the world, it’s not like we’re ever going to get Donald Trump as president. Now you’re doing it knowing that the political situation is as dire as it is, so you’re putting active harm into a world that’s not the same world it was even just six or eight months ago.

Elizabeth

I would like to remind everyone that all of those deaths (of queer female characters on television) were being written while marriage equality was being celebrated. Just think about that for a second.

I think right now in time, a showrunner would be hard pressed to kill a character and not have it fall into the trope. I don’t know how you could do it right now. Maybe when there’s more parity, when there’s more representation, when it really is ‘any character can die’.

Heather

(Jokingly) What if a straight white guy with a vision does it though?

Audience Question: Have you seen a show or somewhere on TV or a movie where they did it right?

Gretchen

Wynonna Earp.

Heather

Carol.

Gretchen

I actually think that up until the last, there are some episodes where it’s better or not, but I actually think Sanvers on Supergirl is amazing.

Elizabeth

First half of the season, yes.

Gretchen

One of the best written stories, especially about an older woman coming out. That was so well done.

Heather

One Day at a Time. Orange is the New Black still deserves your support because it’s telling a lot of stories of women of color. May and Sadie both mentioned Transparent. That show, it’s complicated. You can read a lot of great criticism from trans women at autostraddle, but it’s doing some special stuff.

Gretchen

Steven Universe.

Heather

Steven Universe is doing it the best.

Gretchen

Hands down, Steven Universe is doing it the best right now.

Question: Are any of these stories doing this across intersectionality (queer women of color, of different religions, etc)?

Gretchen

Steven Universe and Orange is the New Black, I would say. Then One Day at a Time because it’s about a Cuban family.

Question: Speaking about ethics in storytelling, what’s your take briefly on subtext?

Elizabeth

Once I had ‘text’, I could never go back.

Gretchen

In some ways there’s not a lot of excuses now for subtext. Compare Steven Universe to Legend of Korra. Legend of Korra existed in a time when it was not acceptable to show woman loving women stories on television, so it had to be subtext otherwise they would have literally not been able to make the show that they did. Legend of Korra then, I think, actually opened the space for a show like Steven Universe.

But now that Steven Universe exists, there’s no excuse to go back. It’s that step. Once you take a step that something can exist as text, there’s no excuse for subtext after that.


Back to Kate G: Friggin’ brilliant, right? Check out their sites for more in depth discussions and resources on all of these things. A big thank you to ClexaCon for hosting this panel. More articles from the front lines at ClexaCon to come!

The Uncanny Valley

The Ranconteur

Autostraddle.com


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Kate G Sees THIS IS US – Season Finale

by Kathryn Graham

This entire season of This is Us has had a theme running throughout – obligations to loved ones vs. personal desires. Last night the show faced the issue head on.

We all compromise with the people closest to us, but what happens when you sacrifice too much?

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT–

Jack and Rebecca rip apart at the seams as they navigate the choices they’ve made together. Both characters feel trapped by the roles that society has prescribed for them, resulting in an explosive confrontation where they air their frustrations, bitterness, and regrets.

What would have been Rebecca’s stellar singing career (come on, it’s Mandy Moore) has been derailed by expectations that she should be focused on finding a husband. First, by her friends, whose ‘well-meaning’ advice casts doubt on her like a curse. Then, by Jack himself – a man whom she genuinely loves, but who wants a family (which requires so much labor she needs to put her dreams aside). Then finally, when she gets back to her dream later in life, her ex-boyfriend Ben and Jack quash it again with petty squabbling and romantic entanglements.

Meanwhile, Jack never wanted to be a ‘company man’. He does it because he’s expected to provide for his children. He’s done a job he’s hated for years. He’s been a ‘good man’ by allowing her to follow her dreams despite his desire to keep her home with him. He wants to be his wife’s everything. To give her everything she’s ever wanted, but he’s never really stopped to ask exactly what that was.

This is a beautiful look at what happens when compromises come at too high a price, when societal expectations place unnecessary burdens on people, and what happens when the underlying resentfulness at having sacrificed too much boils over. Yet, in the end, Jack and Rebecca sacrificed for each other. For their kids. Because of the love they share. Keeping those relationships in tact is just as important as fulfilling lifelong dreams. In real life, that’s incredibly tricky. Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia knock it out of the park.

But imagine for a moment, what would have happened if Rebecca hadn’t given up on her career. What if Jack had stayed home with the kids? Would Rebecca have felt fulfilled? It surely seems more likely, given her deep yearning to sing. Would Jack have been happy? He was the one who wanted kids to begin with. It’s worth examining these characters’ motivations and the way that gendered expectations of labor (male – money-maker / female – caretaker) have shaped their lives.

Check out the finale. It’s told with the same finesse as the rest of the season with a powerful look inside a loving marriage constrained by broken dreams and familial obligations.


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Kate G: ClexaCon March 3rd – 5th 2017

by Kathryn Graham

ClexaCon! A convention focused solely on queer women in the media. It aims to celebrate and elevate women on and behind the screen.

Born of the desire to see more and better representation for LGBTQ women, ClexaCon connects filmmakers, actors, visionaries, and the fans. Actresses like Zoie Palmer and Katherine Bell, among many others who play bisexual or lesbian characters on television, will be present.

Writer Emily Andras from Lost Girl & Wynonna Earp – which both feature queer female characters – will be holding a writing workshop.

There are tons of panels, films, and art. Even though the specific focus is on LGBTQ women, you don’t have to ‘be to belong’, as they say. As far as I understand it, all who are genuinely interested are welcome.

I’m gonna be there. I’ll be writing about it afterwards, but I’d rather see you there too. You can buy tickets here: Clexacon Tickets.

Note: ClexaCon is not affiliated with Tvwriter.com. It just seems like a damn good time for this lesbian writer, who would like to share that damn good time with you. If you do end up going, toss me an e-mail. We’ll have drinks, be unsure of whether we should hug or shake hands, and/or stare at each other awkwardly.


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about Kate HERE

Interview with Jeane Wong Part 3: Breaking In

networking

by Kathryn Graham

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line! Don’t miss the first two parts of this interview with this rising star HERE and HERE.

You worked in politics before entertainment, right?

I worked briefly (in politics) then I went and interned in film and television. I worked at an agency and management company briefly, and then I landed on a TV show. I’ve been working in TV for several years now. That’s been my trajectory.

So you’ve been a script coordinator and a writer’s PA, right?

I’ve worked on several shows as support staff. Everyone’s experience is different, but for me it’s helped me tremendously for gauging personalities and being in the room. In the pitch process, it was helpful to be able to say I’ve worked on these shows and been in the room, even though I haven’t been staffed. Depending on the shows I might have more room experience than a staff writer. I’m familiar with different personalities, names, and talent.

It’s been super useful because I’ve come to a point where I can utilize my contacts for something. Because of this (winning Pitchfest) happening, I have been able to reach out to people and ask for help in the right ways. Because I guess UCP validated me.

What was the best part of being a writer’s PA or a script coordinator?

You learn the most by being a fly on the wall. There were a lot of times, when I was writer’s PA where I asked to read for staffing. I learned that asking to do stuff of your own initiative means you get to overhear conversations about why a writer is staying or not staying, join meetings for staffing, and see how they put together the room. It was super valuable. You get access to something you wouldn’t get to otherwise.

What was the most fun?

Open bars at wrap parties. That’s the best part of life, when there’s an open bar, let’s be honest.

There’s this idea that there’s a hundred million different ways to break in. Is that true?

I feel like the path that I’ve seen with the most success is being a writer’s assistant. Script coordinator sometimes. Like I said I’ve seen instances where the writer’s PA gets staffed. It’s rare.

There’s a few instances where people break in from features because they have a film at Sundance. Everyone is very different. Half the people are in programs. There are a few who do it the old fashioned way, get representation, and get staffed. The rest would be through working as support staff on shows. Then there’s a small percentage that’s ‘other’. That’s been my experience. Out of twenty people I know, that’s the breakdown I see.

What’s your advice for getting a first job as a writer’s PA or assistant?

Network effectively. You throw a penny in the air you’re bound to meet someone who works in TV in this town. I would say when you’re meeting with people, really know how to work that contact. I’ve had people who would just e-mail me once a year after having met them once and just ask for a job. Not say or do anything else throughout the year. That person I’m less likely to recommend as opposed to the contact who’s like ‘hey, let’s grab a coffee’ and seems genuine and interested in getting to know me.

You have to know how to play the game a little bit with your contacts. I’ve been on shows where I never met the showrunner, and I was hired. Really know how to savor that contact. Don’t make it that every time you reach out to someone that you need something.

I remember there was this one contact who was so smart who would e-mail me, and be like ‘hey, I got free tickets to this screening, do you want to go?’ So every time they were reaching out it wasn’t about work, and it wasn’t about something they needed. It almost sounds fake, but it isn’t. It’s about being genuine, for me. I’d rather help someone who’s genuine and socially intelligent. People who know not go to ‘Hey, do you have a job? Bye.’

Unfortunately it is who you know. Some of those jobs get posted on tracking boards. Most of those jobs are word of mouth. If you stayed on someone’s radar and were not annoying, those are the people who get jobs. That’s the best advice. Network effectively. I’m actually really surprised because I feel like not a lot of people do that.

It sounds so on the nose, but it’s true. It’s hard because writers are naturally introverted, and not everyone, but me, I’m neurotic. So it’s not natural for everyone to be extroverted.

Networking seems very simple but mysterious at the same time.

I can tell you one thing I did that was effective for me was I used to throw on TV assistant brunches or get-togethers. I would invite thirty people who work on shows and twenty people who are looking for jobs. That’s actually how I landed a lot of my first interviews on TV shows. I was like, how do I meet these people? Alcohol! Great! I didn’t have those contacts, so I had to think outside the box.

At the time I had a friend who worked at an agency. I knew a handful of people, and those people invited other people, and you wind up having a good group. If you’re right now looking for a job in TV, just get brunch with five or six people. Group outings. Whatever. It’s about making those contacts.

Writers’ groups are a good way to meet people too.

What would you say to people who feel like networking is superficial?

A lot of people who I’ve met, I’ve become friends with for years now, some are really good friends. I’ve never gotten a drink with someone I didn’t like. Even if I want a job from them, I wouldn’t do that. I’ve always considered myself a sincere person. Some of the people you meet might become some of your greatest allies in the industry.

I think the way to bypass thinking that it’s fake is that you’re meeting people at your level who are going to bat for you, will be your friends, and be supportive. Just to have a network of people who will be just as annoyed when you don’t get into that writing program. I wouldn’t look at it as a completely fake thing. One or two of those people have wound up being close friends of mine who I can talk to. I can say to them: ‘something annoying happened in the room and I need to vent’. They get it because they work in the same business.

I have a couple industry friends who are genuinely my friends. I have a friend who left the industry because our friendship goes beyond whether I need something from her. When you work in this town there’s a lot of people who you wind up connecting with. On a larger life scale, bird’s eye view, I would look at networking as the stage in your life where you’re finding your work friends, rather than college friends or childhood friends.

I’ve heard from an agent that you should never hand an agent something that’s not brilliant because you will never get a second chance.

That is true to an extent. This pilot was passed on. Most agents in my opinion sign you once they know you have some momentum. When the news hit Deadline, they reached out to me again even though they passed.

Agents don’t pass because the material isn’t good. I would say that because I’ve worked at a management company. 80% of the time it’s because you need momentum where you’re about to get staffed or you’re in a writing program. Then they’ll look at you.

Unfortunately that’s really cynical. I have a friend who has a deal now, but when I was working at a management company, I tried to get them to look at her. She’s so good. They didn’t sign her because she wasn’t known. Then she got Warner Bros. two years later and everyone wanted to sign her. I’m like ‘What was the difference?’

For me it was a two week difference. Someone said ‘we’re not looking for clients right now’ and two weeks later, I was announced on Deadline, and they reached back out to me. I have nothing against that. It’s the business. I just think it’s the process. It’s not personal. It just means you have to create the momentum. If you’re a comedy writer, you can make Youtube videos and get a lot of hits. With social media there’s a lot more you can do now — especially in comedy.

If you had to break into the industry now instead of when you did, what would be the first thing you would do?

Someone else gave me this advice. You can either work on a show and move up or go do something in the industry and jump on a show. Get a job. It doesn’t have to be in the industry. Get something that you can do so mindlessly that it doesn’t emotionally drain you so you can write and live your life.

Survive. Get a job. Always write. Even before you come to LA, if you were writing and you have your samples ready, get a job,  and then network. Gotta make sure you pay that rent.

A lot of people are hard on themselves when they can’t get an industry job. I would say if you have a job you can do in your sleep outside the industry, that’s great because you’re not drained. I know a lot of people who work on shows who don’t write because their mind is so discombobulated.

Some people with corporate jobs, they work and then take a year off to pursue writing. There’s a path where you don’t do the TV support staff route. Get an agent. Place in a contest. Get momentum going.

Stay positive. It’s such an annoying thing to hear. It really is. Surround yourself with people who give you that energy and momentum. There may be days you think “What am I doing with my life? WTF?” There may be days like that, but move on. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, but don’t suffer with it. That’s something I generally try to live by. Try not to dwell on things so much.

People forget in this town too. People make comebacks all the time. You can be up one moment, down the next. Don’t let things get you down.

I worked for a boss where the head of the studio told them that they’d never work in this town again. A few years later this person got a show. People have a short memory in this town, so you should too. If you had a shitty day, live it and let it go. It’s harder to remember when you’re in the moment.


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Interview with Jeane Wong Part 2: State of the Industry

by Kathryn Graham

FLAG-EBook-CVR-4

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line! Don’t miss the first part of this interview with this rising star HERE.

ANOTHER EDITOR’S NOTE: Empower: Fight Like a Girl is a collection of short stories about female heroines by female television writers, including Jeane Wong! Buy here: Amazon

And now the, you know, show:

How much has the industry changed since you started?

I came of age when all of the social media was such a big deal. Now I feel like it’s grown even bigger with all of the social media stars using that as a different platform. I don’t know if it’s changed so much as grown. Especially with Lost. I grew up with shows like that, and seeing showrunners interact on social media platforms.

Writers are more known now. I remember I was at a party at Comic Con, and Joss Whedon was there. Everybody recognized him. I don’t know if that would happen if I had started in a different age. Writers are more engaged, more known, more online. They’re pseudo-celebrities in their own right. That has been fascinating.

I feel like some things haven’t changed. Someone’s cousin’s son will get hired, and I have friends who have spent years just trying to break in as a writer’s PA. And then you meet people who, because their dad was So-and-So, they get in. A lot of things haven’t changed.

Unfortunately some of the things, I haven’t worked for anyone like that, but being a woman and a minority is still tough. I sometimes joke around with a friend of mine. He’s also a writer and he’s developing material. Everyone is all ‘we have our woman and our diverse person on staff.’ We joked around that when we staff our shows, we’ll say ‘oh, we have our white man.’

Do you see that getting any better?

It’s weird because my pilot is a lot about racial things, and now we’re talking about this. I think people do try, but I don’t think a lot has changed. I’ve worked at a lot of shows where unless it was a woman at the top, there were not a lot of women or diverse people on staff. I think people do try. I will admit that. But there’s a concept that there can only be one woman. Why can’t there be two? Whoa, shocker. We’re half the population, guys.

Is ageism still a big thing for people trying to break in?

You can get staffed from any age. I worked with a PA who was in his or her late thirties and got staffed from the PA position. That’s a little more rare, but it does happen.

In my opinion, if I were putting together my show, I would prefer people with some life experience. As a first time showrunner there’s a lot of pressure. Let’s say your show is at a certain studio, they’ll pressure you to hire people from their writing program. You want to keep everyone happy. There’s so many demands, even in terms of staffing, from what I understand.

I would want people who are a little older, especially at the staff writer level. Theoretically I would only hire a staff writer who has been in support staff and who’s at the breaking point. The way I like to describe it, the person who’s at the point where they’re almost going to quit because they’ve been there for so long. I feel like that person deserves to get staffed.

On The Thin Line I would hope I would find a diverse staff because of the subject matter. It would be weird if everyone on there was white.

How much of an impact do you think TV has on us as people, on our country, on the way we think?

Me personally, I hope to, no, I will create stronger roles for women. Stories that pass the Bechedel test. At the same time, I don’t want to take myself too seriously. I’m not curing cancer. At the end of the day, this is television. Let’s just have fun and entertain. It’s that weird balance where yes, I want to create roles that are great for women, but I also don’t want to take myself too seriously.

TOMORROW: PART THREE


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Interview with Jeane Wong Part 1: The Thin Line

segregation

by Kathryn Graham

Jeane Wong, a friend of TVWriter™ and previous People’s Pilot winner, recently won the First Universal Cable Pitchfest with her pitch for The Thin Line!

What is The Thin Line about?

It’s a revisionist history pilot in modern day America where segregation still exists. It centers on two brothers. One is in a violent civil rights group, and the other lives his life outside of politics. He’s recruited by the FBI to investigate his brother’s political activities. It’s a family drama. There’s a crime element. There’s a very subtle grounded sci-fi element.

Sort of like Man in the High Castle?

I love Philip K. Dick. Every time I travel to a new city, I always buy a Philip K. Dick book to read. He’s definitely one of my top five authors. I had this idea before that show was announced publicly. It’s fortuitous that revisionist history hasn’t been overdone yet, that I know of.

Have you pitched before this?

Formally, no. I only pitched a feature twice. It was completely brand new. I’ve pitched informally in a writer’s room, but in terms of my own show and doing a formal pitch, no. A lot of times those sorts of meetings don’t really happen for newbies. There’s not a lot of people who go out and sell pilots without ever having been staffed. I guess I did it in reverse.

My two really good friends, a comedian writer friend of mine, Lisa, and writer friend of mine, LaToya, we met up. I literally had two days to put together the pitch, and it was my last week at work. So I asked one of my coworkers, Ben, what his process was.

Then I met up with those two friends the night before the pitch, and I practiced it with them. I didn’t have it formed out yet. I had three different beginnings, and I wasn’t sure which one to use. I went through the different versions with them, and they told me which one they liked. I didn’t have a pitch until maybe 11pm the night before, and then I pitched it 10am the next morning. I memorized as much as I could and riffed.

I’m not someone who memorizes everything. I figure out what the points I need to get to are and then improv the rest. Everyone has different styles. Some people memorize every um and ahh. I’m a mix of both.

How well did you know the story before you went in to pitch?

I had already written the full pilot, and I had also written a comic book that was a prequel to the pilot that fleshed out the main character’s backstory. I knew it very well. I’ve re-broken and reworked it when I signed with my manager. It was my main sample that went out.

I had a lot of answers already in my head about story direction and characters. I had pitched the season and even a couple seasons down the line where I saw the character arcs. I would say I knew it well which probably helped in terms of pitching it.

What happens now?

It was purchased by the studio. Basically it’s in development at the studio. They’re employing me to develop it with them and rewrite. I hope it gets packaged with the right showrunner and taken to the network. There’s so many steps along the way. Lightning has to strike several more times, but you never know in this town.

What’s the best advice you ever got in terms of TV writing?

This is definitely a ‘next level’ piece of advice. Recently when I sold my pilot, I was talking to my friend who had also sold a pilot as an assistant. The best advice he gave me was so counter-intuitive that it blew my mind. So much about being in the industry is about being proactive, taking initiative, putting yourself out there.

He said: when you’re in the middle of negotiations for your deal, don’t pester your lawyer or seem impatient. Give them the time to get you the best numbers. It blew my mind because he was saying not to do anything and not to be proactive. With your lawyer be hands off. Let them get the best numbers. You don’t want them to close too early. The truth is lawyers are negotiating twenty deals at the same time. They’ll be like ‘okay I’ll wrap this one up and go on to the next thing’.

Is there a possibility of you working on The Thin Line once it’s been picked up?

I’m involved in it at an upper level.

One of the things I’m learning is just to enjoy the ride. As long as I’m still on the ride, I’m just going to enjoy it. I have no expectations. Anything could happen, but I’m hoping for the best. It’s the best outlook during this process. Although the end goal is the show’s creation, I try to think about the step that’s next. Whether it’s the next meeting or next call I have to take.

It’s more manageable to look at it as all of these small steps to conquer and challenge. The big picture’s always in the back of my head, but I try to think of the other little things I have to do first.

TOMORROW: PART TWO


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE