The Black List – 3 June 28, 2013

Movie central: It’s depressing that the 2013 Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts are skewed white male, despite list founder and CEO Franklin Leonard’s obviously good intentions. Yet it’s a tricky question when you’re dealing with what can be unconscious bias.

Franklin Leonard

Franklin Leonard

I sit on the authors advisory committee of The Writers’ Trust of Canada, which helps the WT board administer some of Canada’s biggest writing awards, including the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction. The authors committee is responsible for making up the prize juries, among other duties.

Each year, we agonize over jury selection, trying to balance gender, ethnicity, regional interests and GBLT jurors. We feel results show that our winners are not only great writers, but over the course of years, come from a representative variety of communities.

But what about the fact that the majority of non-fiction award nominees and winners tend to be men—not only in our prizes, but for all writing awards in Canada and elsewhere? The fact is, we’re all hamstrung by the fact that most of the non-fiction books published here and elsewhere are written by men. Put another way—since this doesn’t happen by accident—publishers choose to publish more non-fiction titles by men, for whatever combination of reasons. You’ll have to ask them.

Leonard must face a similar problem with The Black List. Asking his people to choose the best unproduced scripts of the year partly implies choosing the most film-able scripts, the ones that the Hollywood studios or big independent producers are going to make. Obviously Leonard wants  to be able to show that his list predicts future Oscar nominees, bringing more credibility to the list and more traffic to his website,

And here his readers’ choices butts up against the fact that most movies are still directed, written and produced by men, whether they’re studio movies or independent productions.

The system most notoriously disadvantages female directors. Studios say publicly that women will go to see movies with male actors, directors and male-centric subjects, while men tend not to go to female-centric projects. So in going for the widest possible audience, they skew male. So the problem is systemic, no doubt with a smidge of the unconscious, as well. We all tend to favour people most like us.

The initiative that Leonard hinted at in Toronto? A way to address and perhaps help change that?

Stay tuned. I know I am.