The Writers Guild of America, West honors what we would call “Writers Who’ve Done What Will All Dream of Doing” in this “cherce” (a couple of top writers wrote that word in a screenplay over 70 years ago!) panel discussion that we at TVWriter™ thoroughly enjoyed:
Every now and then a film or television show comes along that changes the way people think and behave. It illuminates prejudices, inequalities and social issues or opens a window onto the lives of a group of people that has been marginalized or overlooked on TV and in the movies.
Eleven screen and television writers whose groundbreaking works ignited social change came together last week on the stage of the Writers Guild Theater to discuss how and why they did it. They discussed the challenges of tackling difficult issues when they created their shows and films and today’s climate of divisiveness.
The panel, “Groundbreakers: Writers Who Moved Hearts & Minds,” was organized and hosted by the WGAW’s Publicity & Marketing Committee in partnership with American Cinematheque and event sponsor Final Draft. Moderator was TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz. Panelists, who collectively represented some of the most acclaimed shows and films of the past 30 years, included: Diane English (Murphy Brown), Susannah Grant (Confirmation), Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), George Lopez (Lopez), Tom Musca (Stand and Deliver, co-written with Ramon Menendez), Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia), David Pollock (M*A*S*H), Scott Silveri (Speechless), Josh Singer (Spotlight), Lena Waithe (Master of None) and Brian Yorkey (13 Reasons Why).
“Their work has moved people to action,” said WGAW President David A. Goodman, kicking off the evening. “They unlocked uncomfortable truths that affect our daily lives.”
They did it, as most writers do, beginning with character, not cause.
“I didn’t approach Confirmation saying, ‘I really want to do something about those hearings,’” said screenwriter Susannah Grant, adding that she is often drawn to characters who are the underdogs that take on the status quo. “What I said was, ‘I think there’s a person there who we really haven’t seen.’ We saw the press footage of Anita Hill, but nobody saw what it took for her to make the decision as a 32-year-old law professor to say, ‘I have something to say about that nominee.’”
Murphy Brown creator Diane English said her approach to writing network television’s first powerful professional woman was an organic one. “When I write there’s a cumulative effect – something I experience in my own life that jumps out of my computer,” said English. “That’s how it works for me.”
Though the current political climate dominated much of the conversation, Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri lamented, “I thought this territory had been covered 25 years ago.”
“It’s such a weird time now,” said Khouri. “There’s so much hate out there that it’s really bugging me. I’m so enraged all the time about what’s happening politically – watching women’s rights get rolled back – all the stuff we thought had been taken care of.”