Fighting For The Culture In Writers’ Rooms Where The Black Experience Is Underrepresented

Written by Ann Brown

Image: Ozy

 

Only 4.8% of TV writers are Black. A major underrepresentation considering Blacks watch more TV than any other group, according to Nielsen.

Writer Jas Waters is determined to bring the Black experience to American television. She has written for NBC’s Emmy Award-winning “This Is Us,” VH1’s “The Breaks,” and Comedy Central’s “Hood Adjacent With James Davis.” Waters is now writing for the forthcoming Showtime series “Kidding” starring Jim Carrey.

“Jas has a bracing, strong, personal perspective; it was a persuasive, original voice at our table,” “This Is Us” co-executive producer Don Roos told Ozy. Ross credits Waters with fully developing the character Beth’s Black immigrant family experience.

However, it wasn’t Waters initial Hollywood dream to be in the writers room.

She was in Evanston, Illinois, and raised mainly by her grandmother in a one-bedroom apartment in a senior citizens home. She still had a relationship, however, with her father, a street-hustler-turned-minister father. He would take her to movies, and during these outings he would break down the images she was seeing on the Big Screen. Through this she developed a passion for film and at age 9, with her father’s encouragement, she wrote her first script.

So enthralled was she with writing over the years, Waters took a year break to work on a script before entering in Columbia College Chicago.

Then a chance run-in with “ER” actor Eriq La Salle changed everything.

“I boldly asked if he needed an intern,” she told Ozy with a laugh. “He asked how long did I have, and I responded: ‘How long would it take?’ He made me wait outside of his trailer for five hours.”

The veteran actor came through and La Salle helped Waters land a one-day internship that later developed into a four-year job as a production assistant on “ER.”

In 2003, Waters moved to Los Angeles plunge into a Hollywood career. While looking for industry jobs, she decided to start her own urban lifestyle blog, FlyStyleLife. By 2007 she moved to New York, where she got  jobs producing music videos. Her music video production credits include R. Kelly, Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow, Jagged Edge, and Common. She’s also produced videos for Sean “Diddy” Combs and directed music videos for Motown artists BJ The Chicago Kid, Kevin Ross. And, in 2010 she wrote and directed, “Everybody’s Haitian,” a PSA supporting Haiti’s earthquake relief, which was Executive Produced by Jay Z.

After losing more than 100 pounds, Waters was being cast on the VH1 reality series The Gossip Game in 2013. She stayed with the show for one season before deciding to return to Los Angeles and work on her first TV pilot.  And in L.A. she met an young agent who love her script and got waters a job in the writers’ room job for VH1’s “The Breaks.” A writing gig with “Hood Adjacent” followed next.

Waters was riding high, but right after New Year’s Day 2017 she found out where was unemployed as both of the shows failed to renew her contract. But Waters waited it out and when her agent submitted her name for the 12-person writers’ room of “This Is Us” she was hired for season two. She was one of just three writers of color. And almost immediately she made her presence known. She let the show know that the interaction between the show’s Black characters felt unnatural–and that she knew how to fix this.

“I believe wholeheartedly in protecting the authenticity of the story,” she told Ozy. “That’s my job. If something feels inauthentic, I have to say something.”

For now, Waters is going all in writing for Kidding, Jim Carrey’s first TV show since 1990, debuting later this year.

 

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About Ann Brown
Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in CocoaFab, Black Enterprise, Essence, MadameNoire.com, New York Trend, Upscale, Moguldom, AFKInsider, The Network Journal, Playboy, Africa Strictly Business, For Harriet, Pathfinders, Black Meetings & Tourism, Frequent Flier, Girl, Honey, Source Sports, The Source, Black Radio Exclusive, and Launch. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cabo Verde,” a Facebook community.