Profile: Tonja Renée Stidhum, Screenwriter.


Tonja Renée Stidhum, screenwriter and director. (Photo: Tonja’s page.)

Tonja Renee Stidhum is a creator and a storyteller with one goal in mind.

“I’ve known I wanted to be a screenwriter from the moment I realized you could get paid for writing films,” Stidhum said.

She’s hoping that goal leads her to become a member of a very small group of women in Hollywood.

The 2014 Hollywood Writers Report conducted by the Writers Guild of America West found that the percentage of employed women writers in film for 2012 was only 15 percent.

Though the film industry has had well-known female screenwriters like Nora Ephron, women writers seem to have better odds working in television, with 27 percent of television writers being female. Regardless, the business is still predominantly male.

Additionally, in 2012 there was an $18,224 pay gap for female screenwriters versus male ones; females made 77 cents for every dollar made by a male. Those statistics don’t specifically account for the difficulty a female screenwriter of color may face.

Stidhum is currently looking for jobs in Los Angeles so she can move from her native Chicago to further pursue her craft. Stidhum has already written five features. She’s currently in post-production of a couple shorts she wrote and directed. One focuses on society’s desire for instant gratification and the other on escaping the 9-to-5 grind.

I ask Stidhum whether reports like this make her wary about an industry where talented female–let alone black–screenwriters can oft go unnoticed.

“I must admit, I am cynical when it comes to this industry,” Stidhum said. “But I do have hope. I have to be familiar with hope to keep going in an industry that has odds stacked against you even as a white male, let alone a black female.”

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