By Claire Downs
It’s a well-known statistic that movies and TV shows with diverse casts make more money and have higher ratings than those with all-white characters. And, in recent months, movies like Get Out and Hidden Figures, and TV shows like Atlanta, and Black-ish (specifically the election episode) have shook up box office numbers and critics alike.
But despite overwhelming evidence of this success, Hollywood’s diversity and gender numbers behind-the-scenes are still incredibly off. The 2016 Hollywood Writers Report, conducted by the Writers Guild of America, revealed that of nearly 20,000 members, just 24.9% are women. Even more disappointing: in 2014, the WGA counted only 205 employed Black writers in all of TV. Statistics are still coming in for 2015-16, but don’t expect them to be much better.
As we finish Women’s History Month, we have to give it up for the Black female comedy writers who’ve been making us laugh week after week (or sometimes, day after day) in the last year. Here are nine Black female comedy writers you should know about.
1. Natasha Rothwell
Natasha Rothwell made a splash playing a rolodex of hilarious people in last year’s The Characters on Netflix where she got to flex her years of improv and sketch comedy training. Rothwell made a name for herself in the NYC comedy community, and it wasn’t long before Saturday Night Live hired her for the 2014-15 season. Her favorite sketch she got to write on SNL was this awesome monologue song for Taraji P. Henson. Now, you can catch Natasha as both a writer and actress on HBO’s Insecure.
2. Amber Ruffin
Amber Ruffin has been making an almost weekly performance on Late Night With Seth Meyers lately. You may recognize her from her recurring sketch, “Amber Says What?” that satirizes the news in the most relatable, charming way possible. Amber’s also a trailblazer. As crazy as this sounds, when Ruffin was hired in 2014, she became the first American woman of color to write for a late night TV show. Amber is also writing for Detroiters, which premiered on Comedy Central last month.
3. Ashley Nicole Black
Ashley Nicole Black got her start at Chicago’s Second City. But when she was cast in a pilot that didn’t get picked up, and saw that Stephen Colbert’s writing staff only had two women and no people of color, she had to speak out. Ashley posted on Facebook her frustration with the industry. A friend agreed, and forwarded the packet (writing sample of jokes) for Samantha Bee’s new show, Full Frontal. She submitted totally blind – without an agent pushing her material to the front – and was hired. Check out this correspondent piece where Ashley went to the RNC and kept a straight face while interviewing a man that says “Black Lives Matter is an evil organization.”
4. Azie Mira Dungey
After portraying a slave for two years to visitors at Mount Vernon, Martha and George Washington’s historic home, Dungey wrote a brilliant web series about her real interactions with visitors called Ask a Slave. Her biting commentary on racial ignorance got the attention of Tina Fey, who staffed her as a writer on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in 2015.
5. Yvette Lee Bowser
You cannot mention “Black women in comedy” without paying respect to Yvette Lee Bowser. In 1992, she became the first African American woman to develop her own primetime series with the hit, Living Single. But even today, Bowser continues to dominate television. In the last fifteen years, she’s sold over twenty-five pilots, and worked as a consulting producer on Lipstick Jungle, Happily Divorced, and Black-ish. This year, she joins Netflix’s Dear White People as the executive producer. Honestly, even though she’s pretty young, Yvette deserves a Lifetime Achievement Emmy ASAP.
6. Issa Rae
In case you didn’t know, Issa Rae doesn’t just star in Insecure on HBO. She is also the creator and writer of several episodes. After graduating from college, Rae created a web series, Awkward Black Girl because she “Felt like [her] voice was missing, and the voices of other people that [she] really respects and admires are missing” (via Huffpost). Season 2 of Insecure will premiere on July 23rd.
7. Akilah Green
For seven years, Akilah Green was a lawyer-lobbyist in D.C. before quitting her firm to try and make it in comedy. Just two years later, Akilah began racking up credits as a staff writer for Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Productions. Now, she’s on staff working for Chelsea Handler on Netflix’s Chelsea. She’s also writing and producing on a feature-length horror called Scratch.
8. Stefani Robinson
Stefani Robinson was credited as a writer on one of the best TV shows of 2016, Atlanta. As the last hire on the staff, Robinson brought her experiences in Atlanta and her unique yet relatable POVs on Black feminism to the writer’s room. Her outstanding “Juneteenth” episode deserves all the awards for its so-real portrayals of the holiday, and white woke-ness. Stefani is also a writer on Man Seeking Woman, and we can’t wait to see what she has next.
9. Leslie Jones
Leslie Jones tore up the screen in last summer’s Ghostbusters and made the Olympics fun again last summer. But where she really shines is in these incredible stand-up/first person bits on Saturday Night Live. After years doing stand-up, opening for the likes of Jamie Foxx and Katt Williams, Jones landed a role in Chris Rock’s movie, Top Five. This film caught the attention of Lorne Michaels, and she was hired as a staff writer in 2014.
Insecure’s Amanda Seales takes us on a ride through Santa Monica as she shares insight on avoiding labels in the comedy world.