Some of those whom I’ve asked to encourage NY Majority Senate Leader John Flanagan to move forward New York’s TV diversity bill (S5448A) wanted to know why I felt so strongly about the bill. In response, below is my letter to the senator detailing my views.
Dear Senator Flanagan,
I write you today in earnest appeal (as a writer/actor with residences on both coasts) to urge you to bring S5448A to a floor vote this legislative session. I am New Yorker, born in Yonkers and raised in Connecticut, only to return to New York as soon as I possibly could, because I cherish the diversity and flavor of New York. I am inspired by it – emotionally, creatively and ethically. It is integral to the creative process (and I’d argue to the human process) to see people in colors and shapes and financial circumstances other than ones own.
Because of this, even though diminishing work forced me to relocate to Los Angeles, I returned as often as I could to try to procure work in NYC. And finally, a few years back, I managed to realize a “bucket list” dream – to buy a small residence, in an effort to be available for more work opportunities in my home town.
Additionally, I am a female writer and am well aware what the percentages look like with respect to hiring women in the entertainment industry versus the percentage of…well…women.
New York harbors the most diverse, most tolerant community I know. We are leaders of change in so many areas. I feel strongly that New York is a “lead by example” state and we have proven on countless occasions that to be the case. Now, in the bigger picture, we can assert a strong hand in beginning to constructively address two undeniable problems at the forefront of our culture today – racism and sexism. If, at the end of the day, you could say that you had even a small hand in erasing those two issues, wouldn’t you have taken steps? We are presented at this moment in time with the unique opportunity to exert a marked influence on both fronts simultaneously — with the added benefit of fostering a vibrant NY-based writing community.
We already know that the tax incentives work. We have witnessed that definitively, as it has brought in millions of dollars in state revenue since its inception. As the industry continues to grow in New York at breakneck pace, isn’t now the ideal time to resolutely manage these issues by using this success to fuel more progress?
And doesn’t it send the wrong message that writers and directors, two very important pieces in the picture, are not deemed “qualified production costs”? It’s important that not just the crew and production expenses be locally hired. It’s important that the creators be locally hired. If the stories are in and about New York, why shouldn’t the stories be told by New Yorkers? And if New York is as diverse as you and I know it to be, why shouldn’t the percentages of the storytellers bear that out in matching numbers?
Our own industry is asking your help to repair this imbalance. Because it is not only our responsibility as creators to present the world authentically, but also our mission to be media trailblazers — to go one step further and serve under-represented communities, races, genders. However, In an industry which prides itself on defining trends and pushing the envelope by telling stories which move, change, inspire and educate an audience, the internal (hiring) numbers demonstrate that we, as an industry, fall far short of exemplary in this area.
We have experienced myriad occasions when movies and television attract rabid attention because they do take a risk, change a norm, present a new world view. It is our calling. The media has a tremendous amount of power and, with that, comes enormous responsibility for the content — and one of our greatest obligations is to introduce the public to ideas, people and concepts that they would otherwise not know or understand. Frankly, it’s our job to break ground every day. If we can’t adapt, we fail. We’d like your help in doing just that.
I hope I’ve presented a compelling argument – as I know my peers have done before me in the 500 or so letters sent to the governor last month. I know it’s an impassioned plea because, as an artist, that is who I am – but removing all of that, I will leave you with the unadorned facts, which I believe are compelling on their own:
This bill does not ask you to do anything radical…or even liberal. It merely asks that you help us encourage the hiring of locals, of women, and of people of color. It’s not a mandate – the studios and networks are free to hire whomever they please. Certainly some stories can only be told with diversity and some can only be told without it. The bill is simply an incentive.
As well as personally encouraging other NY writers and directors to support it, I am currently writing an article for the local paper detailing the bill – however the publication will not print before your deadline. I hope I will be including a great milestone in the journey toward making NY writers and directors as diverse as the town in which they inhabit.
Thank you for your time,
**[Feel free to borrow any or all of the included arguments and send or call yourself (518-455-2071 or firstname.lastname@example.org) to help get this bill passed].**