Written By April | May 2013 : Page 2

tHe MAGAzine OF tHe WriterS GuilD OF AMeriCA, WeSt FADe in “DON’T LOOK BACK— something might be gaining on you.” Satchel Paige printed his “master maxim” on business cards. Arguably the Negro Leagues’ most famous player, he became the oldest rookie in Major League baseball history in 1948, pitching the Cleveland Indi-ans to the World Series at the tender age of 42. Although he accomplished much, and might have been correct about the personal warning, Paige was mistaken about the historical. Those who don’t remember the past, well… With apologies to Satchel Paige, let’s do look back and hope that something might be gaining on us. First, a few stats: 880,000 African-American GIs returned from military service by the close of 1946. There were 56 lynchings, many of them World War II veterans because they wore a uniform. Number 42 equals 42, the script written and film directed by this magazine’s cover guy, Brian Helgeland. Seven-and-a-half percent to 15.6 percent. That’s the increase in minority writers hired between the 1999–2000 and 2011–2012 television seasons, according to the WGAW’s recent TV Staffing report—a 50 percent shift. Stats can have names. For instance: Yvette Lee Bowser, Zoanne Clack, Shonda Rhimes—three African-American women thriving in the high-stakes business of writing TV. Another name: 27-year-old African-American Sgt. Isaac Wood-ard Jr. In 1946, a few hours after being honorably discharged, the sergeant rode through Georgia, wearing his United States military uniform, until dragged from the bus by police and beaten blind. That same year, another honorably discharged African-American sat in the “colored” back seats while traveling on buses through southern states. This veteran wore a different style of uniform. But the number on the back of his jersey might as well have been a target. The first black athlete signed to play on a white professional baseball team, Jackie Robinson was “trying out” for a minor league farm club. Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey’s desegregation strategy required that Robinson play exceptionally and re-main stoic despite abusive public scrutiny. Rickey’s anxiety: Could the 26-year-old ignore extreme racist epithets? If Robinson confronted big-otry with violence, the “great experiment,” as Rickey termed his gamble, would implode, setting desegregation back for years, if not decades. But to endure curses when the euphemistic N-word did not exist required extraordinary strength. That word was spelled out in news-papers, spoken on the radio, shouted on baseball fields by the boys of summer. Here’s a sample of the vitriol, reproduced from Helgeland’s 42 screenplay: “Hey! Hey you black nigger!” screams Philadelphia Phillies man-ager Ben Chapman, pointing at the batter wearing jersey number 42. “Why don’t you go back to the cotton fields where you come from? 2 • W ritten B y © © WGAW OFFiCerS President Chris Keyser Vice President Howard A. Rodman Secretary-treasurer Carl Gottlieb MARK HANA UER WGAW BOArD OF DireCtOrS John Aboud, Scott Alexander, Alfredo Barrios Jr., Linda Burstyn, Marjorie David, Ian Deitchman, Carleton Eastlake, Katherine Fugate, David A. Goodman, David S. Goyer, Chip Johannessen, Kathy Kiernan, Michael Oates Palmer, Billy Ray, Thania St. John, Dan Wilcox exeCutiVe DireCtOr David Young GenerAl COunSel Tony Segall WGAW PHOne inFOrMAtiOn The Guild (All Departments) 323.951.4000 FAx 323.782.4800 WeBSite: WWW.WGA.OrG WGAW DePArtMentS Administration Agency Awards & elections Claims Contracts Credits Dues Diversity executive Offices Film Society Finance Human resources legal library Member Services Membership Organizing Public Affairs Publications registration residuals Signatories theater Operations Written By Pension & Health 323.951.4000 782.4520 782.4502 782.4569 782.4663 782.4501 782.4528 782.4531 782.4589 951.4000 782.4508 782.4637 782.4615 782.4521 782.4544 782.4747 782.4532 782.4511 782.4574 782.4699 782.4500 782.4700 782.4514 782.4525 782.4699 818.846.1015 800.227.7863 800.890-0288 WritersCare info. Written By welcomes your comments. Send letters to: 7000 W. Third St., L.A., CA 90048 Or E-mail us at writtenby@wga.org continues on page 4 WG A W Written By APRIL | MA Y 20 13

Fade In

Richard Stayton

“DON’T LOOK BACK—something might be gaining on you.”

Satchel Paige printed his “master maxim” on business cards. Arguably the Negro Leagues’ most famous player, he became the oldest rookie in Major League baseball history in 1948, pitching the Cleveland Indians to the World Series at the tender age of 42. Although he accomplished much, and might have been correct about the personal warning, Paige was mistaken about the historical.Those who don’t remember the past, well...

With apologies to Satchel Paige, let’s do look back and hope that something might be gaining on us.

First, a few stats: 880,000 African-American Gis returned from military service by the close of 1946. There were 56 lynchings, many of them World War II veterans because they wore a uniform.

Number 42 equals 42, the script written and film directed by this magazine’s cover guy, Brian Helgeland.

Seven-and-a-half percent to 15.6 percent. That’s the increase in minority writers hired between the 1999–2000 and 2011–2012 television seasons, according to the WGAW’s recent TV Staffing report—a 50 percent shift.

Stats can have names. For instance: Yvette Lee Bowser, Zoanne Clack, Shonda Rhimes—three African-American women thriving in the high-stakes business of writing TV.

Another name: 27-year-old African-American Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr. In 1946, a few hours after being honorably discharged, the sergeant rode through Georgia, wearing his United States military uniform, until dragged from the bus by police and beaten blind.

That same year, another honorably discharged African-American sat in the “colored” back seats while traveling on buses through southern states. This veteran wore a different style of uniform. But the number on the back of his jersey might as well have been a target.The first black athlete signed to play on a white professional baseball team, Jackie Robinson was “trying out” for a minor league farm club.

Brooklyn Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey’s desegregation strategy required that Robinson play exceptionally and re- main stoic despite abusive public scrutiny. Rickey’s anxiety: Could the 26-year-old ignore extreme racist epithets? If Robinson confronted bigotry with violence, the “great experiment,” as Rickey termed his gamble, would implode, setting desegregation back for years, if not decades.

But to endure curses when the euphemistic N-word did not exist required extraordinary strength. That word was spelled out in newspapers, spoken on the radio, shouted on baseball fields by the boys of summer. Here’s a sample of the vitriol, reproduced from Helgeland’s 42 screenplay:

“Hey! Hey you black nigger!” screams Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman, pointing at the batter wearing jersey number 42.“Why don’t you go back to the cotton fields where you come from?

Or did you swing your way out of the jungle? Hey, black boy! Hey, shoe shine! You like white women? Which one of them Dodger wives are you climbing on tonight? You don’t belong here, nigger! Look in the mirror! This is a white man’s game!”

Helgeland did not invent this. These curses were uttered in Brook- lyn’s Ebbets Field on April 22, 1947, exactly one week after Robinson’s first at-bat in the majors. Such is the hardball tough love of 42, dramatizing Robinson’s 1946 minor league tryout tour of the Jim Crow South and his 1947 rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In 2013, it helps to keep Robinson’s achievements in mind while pondering the WGAW’s annual TV Staffing Brief: “Minority writers nearly doubled their share of staffing positions” in the past decade.Inarguably, there is not nearly enough diversity in today’s television business, an obvious fact when scripts are required for an increasingly diverse culture. But here’s progress, however incremental. And the key to such progress is what Robinson risked his life for: access.

In Hollywood, without access nothing gets done. Of course, the same is true everywhere: access to education, jobs, unions, housing, boardrooms. But once Robinson gained access, immediately a torrent of black athletes flooded baseball: Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin.

Alas, progress in the rest of society is coming much, much more slowly, with legal, illegal, and sometimes murderous resistance on the frontlines of the continuing Civil Rights battle. But guess how many African-Americans wrote for Hollywood movies in 1946, the year Jackie Robinson began his American odyssey? You’re betting zero?

Ask WGAW Diversity Advisory Group member Shonda Rhimes, who says this about the Guild’s Writer Access Project: “Programs like this one are important because they ensure that all of the hardworking and talented voices out there are recognized and given a fair and equal opportunity for employment.”

Equal opportunity. Not much to ask for, right? Rhimes is a remarkably successful African-American woman who created the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal. In its ninth season, Grey’s continues with high ratings in the key 18– 49 demographic. Would such stats exist without Jackie Robinson’s heroism?

Ask Don Newcombe, the great Hall of Fame pitcher who joined the Dodgers after Robinson’s rookie season and remains with the organization at age 86 as an advisor. “I remember Martin Luther King sitting in my house at my dinner table,” Newcombe told a reporter, “and he was talking about Jackie. King said, ‘You will never know how easy it was for me because of Jackie Robinson.’ I never forgot those words. It’s a shame today when I ask a young ballplayer or a young black kid I am counseling on drug and alcohol abuse who Jackie Robinson was and he can’t tell me.”

Newcombe is passionate about his former teammate’s role in the Civil Rights movement: “As long as I’m alive, as long as I have a breath to breathe, I won’t let anybody forget Jackie Robinson.”

Ask Brian Helgeland. Better yet, read his personal essay in Written By for the answer. Helgeland looked back, saw a ghost beckon, and then resurrected the spirit of 42. So can you.

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Fade+In/1377608/155580/article.html.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here