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This year's Black List celebrates good writing, but shows Hollywood's diversity problem

Franklin Leonard, founder and CEO of The Black List and host of The Black List Table Read podcast.
Franklin Leonard, founder and CEO of The Black List and host of The Black List Table Read podcast.
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The Black List is here! Today, a slew of filmmakers, screenwriters, actors and Hollywood executives tweeted out videos announcing the top unproduced screenplays of 2015

The release of The Black List has become an annual ritual in Hollywood. Generated by an anonymous group of industry executives, the list is a compilation of the best un-produced scripts making the rounds of Hollywood this past year. 

It began in 2005 when Franklin Leonard, who was then a development executive at Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, was tasked with finding scripts for his boss. He surveyed a bunch of agents and executives around town and their recommendations became his reading list for the winter break.

By now, he’s not the only one reading these scripts. Getting on The Black List is a point not just of pride, but it will likely move your script toward production.

Among Oscar-winning films that began life as screenplays on the Black List are: "Argo," "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Imitation Game." Among former Black List titles that are vying for Oscars this year are "Spotlight," "The Revenant" and "The End of the Tour."

The Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard sat down with John Horn to talk about the 81 scripts on the 2015 list.


Why are there so many true stories on the list?

True stories and biopics in particular tend to be things that people respond to. If I had to guess, I think that's probably both a supply-and-demand issue, in that a lot of writers are writing stuff that is based on true stories because of this sort of pre-sold phenomenon in the industry. 

How diverse are the screenwriters on the list in terms of women and people of color?

There's a long way to go on the diversity front. I think that's true in the annual Black List. I think that's true really in every aspect of where the industry is right now. I don't have a clear sense of the [Black List] numbers in terms of non-white writers. Based only on names — which is not a perfect approximation of gender — we count 16 of 81 scripts are either written or co-written by women. And again, this represents a voting pool that represents the industry as a whole. So I think it is a reflection of what people are reading and liking more than it is any indication of bias or lack of bias on our part.

Are there more scripts with women characters in lead roles?

This year, my instinct is that there are more female-driven stories even if they're not written by women necessarily than there were in past years. Our hope is that we can help put our finger on the scale, raise the visibility of diverse writers work. But at the end of the day the work does have to speak for itself. This year, as I said, 16 of 81 written or co-written by women. I don't think that's reflective of the talent that women screenwriters have. I think it's probably, if anything, a reflection of a ton of implicit bias and structural deficiencies that the industry has as a result of a decades-long history.

Read the 2015 Black List here. Get Franklin Leonard's podcast, The Black List Table Reads, here.





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