Black writers trumpet benefits of HBCUs on picket line

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By Anita Bennett

Contributing Writer

CULVER CITY — They chanted. They danced. And they demanded a fair contract.

Black writers and actors hit the picket line Aug. 3 outside Amazon Studios here for a day recognizing talent from historically Black colleges and universities who have carved out careers in the entertainment industry.

Angela Allen, a writer and producer whose credits include the CBS drama series “S.W.A.T.” and The CW’s “Kung Fu,” is a Howard University graduate and organized the HBCU-themed strike event.

“As a member of the Writers Guild of America West, I know how my income and career have been impacted by the strike,” Allen said. “And so I felt that if other people also are feeling that impact, it’d be better for us to get together and show some solidarity.”

The picketers carried signs and wore T-shirts representing Howard, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University — although most said they attended Howard.

Among those Howard alums was Kasaun Wilson, a stand-up comedian and staff writer on the Apple TV+ series “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” Wilson said attending an HBCU prepared him for a career in Hollywood.

“The reason why I began writing in general, the reason why I started stand-up comedy, the reason why I became the man I became, is not just because of the education that I got at Howard University, but the depth of the professors who spoke to your life, who taught you about life, who cared about who you are outside,” Wilson said.

The Writers Guild of America strike began on May 2, while actors represented by SAG-AFTRA began picketing on July 14.

The WGA is pushing for higher residual pay for streaming programs. The union is also calling for industry standards on the number of writers assigned to each show, and rules limiting the use of artificial intelligence technology to write or rewrite scripts — in an effort to protect jobs.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Hollywood studios, networks and streaming services, has pushed back saying it offered a “comprehensive package proposal” to the guild, but it was rejected.

Actors represented by SAG-AFTRA are also calling for increased streaming residuals and protections against the use of actor images through artificial intelligence.

As the writers’ strike nears its 100th day, WGA negotiators planned to meet with studio representatives on Aug. 4, in the first talks since the strike began.

Wilson was cautiously optimistic.

“This is something that could end tomorrow if we come to a fair contract, and we give writers and actors what they deserve. Hopefully we’ll come to a contract soon,” he said.

The atmosphere outside Amazon was one of comradery. A disc jockey played hit songs and writers and actors danced.

While many had a good time, those attending noted it’s important to remember they are sending a message to people around the country.

“This is a battle for everybody, because if the writers don’t work, the actors don’t work,” said Dallas Jackson, a director and writer, who is a member of the WGA and the DGA. “The restaurants don’t make money and the small businesses suffer.”

A writer on the Netflix film “Welcome to Sudden Death,” and the writer-director of the 2022 film “The System,” starring Terrence Howard and Tyrese Gibson, Jackson also attended Howard University.

“Howard led me on a path to become a screenwriter. My screenwriting class at Howard gave me confidence,” he said. “My professors, more specifically, told me I should be a writer when I wasn’t even thinking of it. I was going to be a stand-up comedian, which I’m probably glad I didn’t go down that route. Howard made me think bigger, dream bigger.”

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