Lambda Literary kicked off the third day of their virtual LitFest with the topic of Writing in Hollywood and the challenges faced as Black and POC LGBTQ+ folks writing in Hollywood. The panel featured four extraordinary guests respected in their fields of work. The panel focused on the umbrella topic of what performative, tokenist diversity looks like compared to actual diversity for the sake of storytelling and representing minority experiences accurately and what does that look like in a writing room.
The panel included award winning filmmaker, Kase Peña, a Transgender Latinx Female of Dominican Descent, who’s currently raising funds for her independent feature film Trans Los Angeles’.
Her career started in New York City where she was born. Recalling her experience as a filmmaker who wanted to do work on more independent films, quite different from many writers in New York City who want to follow the career trajectory of television. Eventually she moved to Los Angeles where she got work working on sets and wrote many of her films until she had enough experience to make it bigger in the industry.
What defined much of her advice to writers looking to make it into the industry was to be aware of the structural reasons of trying to make it in a career dominated by white cis men while being BIPOC and LGBTQ, to work hard, and focus on your craft as best you could.
“You have to be committed to your work,” Peña said. “Put in the work and good energy will come your way.”
Then there was Taneka Stotts, an Emmy-nominated television writer who has worked on the animated series My Little Pony: Pony Life (Hasbro), Steven Universe Future, and Craig of the Creek (Cartoon Network).
Stotts began as an editor and publisher for multiple award-winning comic book anthologies including the 2015 Lambda Literary Award winner Beyond: The Queer Sci-Fi & Fantasy Comic Anthology and the 2017 Ignatz winner for Outstanding Anthology, 2018 Silver Medalist at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and 2018 Eisner winner for Best Anthology Elements: Fire – A Comic Anthology by Creators of Color.
Every bit encouraging as she is fierce, blunt, and determined, the author discussed her experiences on demanding diversity not simply within the stories television and film writers create, but including diversity within the writing room so that the story could be as authentically and creatively diverse as possible.
“My story has been lived,” Stotts said. “Their story has (hopefully) been researched.”
Stotts stresses that it’s important for BIPOC and POC LGBTQ+ people to be within the writing room when these stories are made. But with the animation industry being dominated by white cis men, it’s not only important to bring well-known BIPOC and POC LGBTQ+ writers on to the scene, but also equally important for those same writers to hire in writers that will further diversify the writing room.
Finally, there was writer and actor Steve Harper. Harper currently serves as Supervising Producer on the CW drama Stargirl and has written for God Friended Me on CBS, ABC’s American Crime, the USA Network’s Covert Affairs and created the Emmy nominated web series Send Me.
Harper told audience members the importance of working on your craft wherever you are, whenever you can, being yourself, and networking.
“The industry is every bit socializing as it is craft and talent,” Harper said. He advised newer writers to get out there, put your confidence forward and be yourself because “people notice, and people are attracted to that confidence”.
The next panel will be tonight at 6:00 P.M. PT/9:00 P.M. ET where panelists will be discussing Politics, Activism, & Writing through a Black & POC LGBTQ framework.
If you were unable to attend the virtual event, or any of the virtual events, Lambda will be releasing a closed caption recording of each event next week on their YouTube channel.