Why This Former ‘The Walking Dead’ Producer Banned ‘Manterrupting’

Viewers who tuned in to Glen Mazzara’s new series Damien (which premiered this week on A&E) saw a dark drama about the now grown-up evil child from the 1976 film. Bad sign. What they didn’t see was Mazzara’s behind-the-scenes creation: a writers’ room that’s equal parts men and women—a Hollywood rarity.

Mazzara, a longtime showrunner (credits include FX Network shield and AMC zombies), didn’t set out to be a champion of diversity in Tinseltown. But a few years ago, he began to notice some troubling patterns that led him to take action and change the ethnic and gender makeup of his writers’ room.

It all started when Mazzara was working shield, a series about a fictional, experimental division of the Los Angeles Police Department. “I looked around the writers’ room, and a lot of my fellow writers were white, middle-aged guys,” says Mazzara. “And I was writing for a very diverse cast.”

Mazzara became concerned that the material they were developing was not as “authentic” as it should be and decided to diversify their writing staff, primarily by hiring writers of color.

“What surprised me was that when I went to the agencies, people thought I was just covering up, that I wasn’t being honest,” says Mazzara. “And I really started to see, as an employer, that the system was being rigged to accept white men, train them, and keep them in practice. It’s very hard to bring other people into the pipeline and then give them the tools to succeed. There’s resistance not just at a systemic level, but in the writers’ room as well.”

Ultimately, Mazzara not only hired more writers of color, but also became involved in diversity initiatives within the Writers Guild.

“Sometimes in Hollywood, showrunners will say, ‘I don’t want to hire a black writer—I had one and it didn’t work,’” says Mazzara. “We will hire a woman who represents the strong female perspective. Why can’t it represent everyone’s perspective, it needs to be changed. “

Stop interrupting

Bringing biases to light is not easy. And Mazzara had to unlearn some of his own behavior patterns. After hiring a few new female writers a few years ago, he was surprised to realize that the women were constantly being interrupted during writing sessions—and that he hadn’t even noticed.

“Everybody sits around the table and is a free man,” says Mazzara. “People pitch ideas and writers will come and want to pitch. After a few days, these women said, “Look what happens when we try to launch.” Every time they started pitching someone cut them off or stole the pitch or tried to change it. I was complicit in this because my male ear was attuned to the male voice interrupting. So I realized we had a behavior that we needed to unlearn.”

Immediately, Mazzara instituted a “no interruption” rule in his writers’ room.

“If someone comes in and has the floor and presents prepared material, let them propose,” says Mazzara. “Then when it’s done, you can tear it up and destroy it and leave them in tears, whether they’re men or women.”

Mazzara has made it a priority to achieve 50/50 gender parity Damienthe writers’ room. But as evident by the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Hollywood has a long way to go. According to Mazzara, even our terminology is inherently biased,

“You could say that the term diversity is a sexist and racist term in itself,” says Mazzara, “because it implies diversity in a white, male perspective.”

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