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Dream on Pause: The writers strike comes as Latines are finally making waves in Hollywood | Arts Stories & Interviews | San Antonio

click to enlarge Lindsey Villarreal (right) joins the picket line with other Latines participaing in the Writers Guild of America strike. - Lindsey Villarreal

Lindsey Villarreal

Lindsey Villarreal (right) joins the picket line with other Latines participaing in the Writers Guild of America strike.

Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion piece by a San Antonio native participating in the Writers Guild of America’s Hollywood writers strike.

This past April, I was deep in talks with a Texas based multimedia company about financing my very first feature, a horror film based on Texas folklore titled Woman Hollering.

It felt like nothing short of a dream. For me, the path to become a screenwriter was a long one. It took even longer to make it from Southwest San Antonio where I was born to Los Angeles, California, where I currently reside. With barriers to entry in most Hollywood careers, the road to success for young Latines can be limited.

Only now we’re in week 18 of the Hollywood writers strike. Safe to say the dream is on pause.

If you don’t keep up with entertainment news, you should know that the writers and actors of your favorite films and TV shows are currently out on picket lines fighting for fair wages. Thousands of hard-working guild members, like myself, are out of work at the behest of our union: The Writers Guild of America. The WGA advocates minimum pay, pension, health plans and more for entertainment writers of all kinds.

It’s easy for my colleagues and I to get lost in the jargon of residuals, AI and mini-rooms —  words I doubt mean much to you if you’re not adjacent to Hollywood. So, it’s important to me to explain to you why a strike like this, right now, is going to directly affect your experience as media consumer from San Antonio and how a lot of up-and-coming Latine writers from San Antonio might never get their chance to grace your screens.

I had the absolute privilege of writing for a show called Vida, a program about two Mexican American sisters from East LA fighting to understand each other and the hidden life of their recently deceased mother. I also wrote for The Purge on USA Networks. My episode had Mexican characters speaking Spanish alongside Brazilian characters speaking Portuguese, and now the show is syndicated globally.

My one and only goal as a writer is to represent Latine folks in ways not yet seen. Have you seen the show Primo on Freevee yet? If you haven’t you should. It’s about San Antonians who love their family no matter how inconvenient and difficult family can be. I went to Southwest High School with the show’s creator, famed TV and culture writer Shea Serrano.

That two Latines from the same high school on the South Side of San Antonio can bring our varied opinions and experience to a global audience is huge. It’s unheard of, in fact. Consult any inclusion study or opinion piece of the past five years. I spoke with Southwest High School alum and now district and community relations specialist Brandon Medina who feels what happens in current media directly affects his students.

“I can see how something like the strike in Hollywood would negatively push them at a young age from exploring a creative path,” he said. “Most Latino families would be quick to judge that [a career in entertainment] is not a way to make real money.”

I have to agree. My own path took four years of undergrad film school at UT Austin, two years of aimlessness then three more years of graduate film school at USC followed by a combined eight years of assistant jobs. I took out a fortune in loans, I’m constantly trying to cobble together a living wage and I still haven’t even seen all of The Sopranos. The path of a filmmaker is not an easy one.

When I first started out, I thought writing for film and television meant my stories would be instantly delivered direct to Texican eyeballs, but God was I wrong. Television writers are trained to adapt their writing to a showrunner’s vision.

Too often Latine writers are asked to prove themselves repeatedly until they’re given the chance to be a showrunner at all (if ever). There are very few of us in positions of power because it takes access, time and money to confront all the obstacles that currently exist in Hollywood for Latines. And there are many.

The University of Texas at Austin holds a program for Radio, TV, and Film majors in Los Angeles, where students can try their hand at breaking into a career in Hollywood. My former mentee from the program, Jenny Alvarado, now a corporate employee of vacation rental site VRBO, feels the pressure of trying to break into an unstable industry as a Latina.

“You have to be able to say yes to everything and that means taking lower wages and being ok with being underpaid,” Alvarado lamented. “It’s this systemic feedback loop of having a story to tell but not having the privilege to fail.”

I hate that for us.

This strike comes at a time when Latines are making waves. When our stories are just starting to break new ground. “It’s awesome to see someone from Southwest High School create a series that’s focused on San Antonio and seeing the Spurs jerseys that you had on your wall as a kid,” Medina said of Serrano’s new show.

That to me is enough to fear the new barriers to entry being created by this strike. That is, the longer this strike goes on, the more young Latines are leaving Hollywood. That’s just not acceptable to me. I want Spurs jerseys as far as the eye can see on the walls of Latine characters on television, and if you’re from the 210 for real, I know you do too.

We cannot let this industrywide setback create new obstacles or push us away from our stories. It’s not fair to you, me, Shea or the Latine kids from high schools across this entire city hungry for a shot at turning their own unique experiences into stories for the world to see.

Make no mistake. I’m in deep support of the WGA. This strike is necessary for our future as writers. But those most affected are those of us from underrepresented communities without so much as a nudge into the entertainment industry. We can blame greed-driven corporate Hollywood for that.

I know many young writers like Alvarado desperate to showcase their narratives, but they can’t do that if the access keeps getting smaller and smaller. When this strike is over, there will be fewer shows and fewer jobs. It’s a future that looks slightly dimmer for our stories. A future I’ll keep fighting to change.

Until then you can find me on the picket lines. Much like my script, I’ll be the Woman Hollering.

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