Bianca Sams, TV Writer and WGA Committee of Black Writers Co-Chair (Courtesy Photo


At the time of this writing, it was approximately one month on the other side of a year since 97.9% of Writers Guild of America (WGA) members voted to strike. 

According to an August 2023 Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper article written by Cora Jackson Fossett and this writer, the WGA began its strike on May 2, 2023 in opposition to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) regarding several issues directly affecting the living wages and the potential future earnings of its members. Two of the major concerns were artificial intelligence and residuals. 

Then on September 24, after being on strike for almost 150 days, the WGA reached a tentative three-year agreement with the AMPTP, which was approved by 99% of WGA writers on October 9. The term of the agreement was set from September 25, 2023, to May 1, 2026. 

Black Writers on the 2023 WGA Picket Lines (Courtesy Photo)

Now, almost nine months into the contract, the question is how is it advancing Black Hollywood writers?  

Quoted in the August 2023 Sentinel piece, diversity expert Dr. Darnell Hunt said, “Black people in the industry have always occupied a rather precarious position. The strike and the conditions that gave rise to it only exacerbate the situation for Black writers as Hollywood pushes diversity and inclusion concerns to the back burner while focusing, instead, on the issues surrounding streamers and industry restructuring.” 

Bianca Sams is the current WGA Committee of Black Writers co-chair. The Netflix television series “Sweet Magnolias,” the HBO superhero TV show “Titans,” and the CW horror fantasy series “The Originals” are some of her television writing credits.  

Sams said she fell into writing by accident, and she initially had no plans of being a television writer. She was a working actor and moving into playwriting when she was encouraged by a friend to try screenwriting. 

Sams wrote a non-commissioned and unsolicited screenplay and got into the Warner Bros. Television Workshop. It is a writing program for aspiring writers seeking to begin and advance their careers in television. 

“I had no understanding of how completely crazy it is to get into that program, and I got in,” said Sams. “That’s what brought me to L.A. and got me into TV writing, and I’ve been here ever since, and I’m surprised they haven’t kicked me out yet.” 

(Courtesy Photo)

She said the WGA is important because the union protects the interests of unwitting novice writers against the powerbrokers of the entertainment industry. 

In fact, Sams credits the WGA with helping her to negotiate her initial contract with the Warner Bros. writing program.  

“The Guild literally walked me through what was standard and what wasn’t standard,” said Sams. “They couldn’t negotiate for me, but they could at least explain [it] to me.” 

She continued, “If you can’t afford a lawyer, which I couldn’t – I wasn’t even in the Guild – you need people who are fighting for you.” 

Sams said she knew then that she needed to be a part of the WGA, and she wanted to know more about how it worked, and what other resources could be accessed through the Guild. 

One of those resources was the Committee of Black Writers (CBW). 

(Courtesy Photo)

Sams described the CBW as a place where Black writers can go for nurturing and networking opportunities. She said it is about sharing information and the growth of Black writers.  

“It’s a really great place to find home and kinship,” said Sams. 

Now, as a co-chair of the CBW, Sams believes there are still some unresolved issues in the aftermath of the 2023 agreement that directly affect the earnings potential of Black writers. 

For instance, writers are often not paid for developing projects until they have been picked up for production, which sometimes never happens.  

It is sometimes customary for the professional sustainability of a writer, especially one who might be under a studio contract, to create content with the hopes of that project being picked up by the studio for production. 

(Courtesy Photo)

While studio executives and staff are on salary or payroll through the studio, writers are basically freelancers who are only paid once and if the project is selected for production. 

“It can be a year. I have pitches where I am working free for a year in hopes that this thing sells,” said Sams. “If it never sells – I never get paid.”  

She said this is a problem especially for screenwriters, who represent a smaller percentage of the WGA whole, but it also happens in television. 

“A lot of the abuses happen to smaller groups,” said Sams. “I feel like the same thing happens to historically marginalized groups. They [the studios] will try out their nonsense on us first, and then it becomes a bigger problem for everyone, and no one does anything until it’s a bigger problem for everyone.”  

Sams said the non-compensation for development issue will be up for contention in the 2026 WGA and AMPTP negotiations. 

Another unresolved and uncovered issue in the 2023 agreement is podcast and scripted audio.  

Scripted audio is written before recording audio for a video. This format is often used for the taping of podcasts. 

This can become an issue over the ownership of the intellectual property or “IP.” 

“IP is king!” exclaimed Sams. “Companies are specifically saying, ‘Hey would you make this audio drama with me, because we’re trying to create an IP, and then we’re going to sell it to TV.’” 

“You can write it and you’re paid basically nothing,” she said. “If you’re moving it from one medium to the next [in this case podcast to TV] there’s money I won’t get.” 

Once the podcast moves to television, Sams said the writer can be totally cut out of the deal. 

Generally, she said in any strike negotiation there are things you wish you would have gotten that you don’t, and it is a sentiment shared by most Black Hollywood writers. 

“But as a whole, the things we did get potentially can make such a vast difference in our lives,” said Sams. “I say potentially because you have no clue – we don’t know how these potential gains actually mead out for us or the industry as a whole.”  

She continued, “Now that we’re at the one-year mark – we can’t tell is this better or is this worse – it might take us a couple of years to figure out if we gained or if we didn’t gain.”