Panel Advises Screenwriters on Portrayal of Women
‘We, As Social Workers, Look at the Whole Environment of a
Social work as a profession could use more realistic portrayals in
By Paul R. Pace, News Staff
|Panel participants from left: Tricia Bent-Goodley, Stacy
Owens, moderator Elizabeth Laviter, Kathy Gurland, Jacki McKinney and Colleen
Social worker Kathy Gurland said Hollywood writers can skip
over-the-top storylines about a character dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
“The drama for people with cancer is lived every day,” Gurland
She suggested writers for television and movies wishing to
improve their characters’ authenticity should talk directly with cancer
patients as well as members of their care teams and loved ones.
“These people are not just their diagnosis,” she said. “Cancer
is a family illness.”
Gurland, who runs Peg’s Group, a cancer care navigation
consulting service in New York City, took part in a recent panel discussion to
help writers in Hollywood improve their accuracy when addressing women’s health
issues. The event was hosted by the Entertainment Industries Council in
partnership with NASW, the NASW Foundation, SAMHSA and the Writers Guild of
“I told (the writers), ‘it would be more realistic if you made
the person with cancer multifaceted,’” Gurland said. “We, as social workers,
look at the whole environment of a person, from relationships to the
Social work as a profession could use more realistic
portrayals in Hollywood scripts as well. For example, Gurland noted she rarely
sees a social worker portrayed on hospital dramas, which are a staple on
“I told (the writers) that social workers are involved with
every aspect of a person’s care,” she said.
Overall, Gurland said she found the panel discussion
enlightening for the participants and the audience.
“I was proud of the fact that most of the questions from the
audience were directed to the social workers on the panel,” she said.
Greg Wright, senior public relations associate at NASW,
attended the event. He reported in the NASW blog www.SocialWorkersSpeak.org that
another panelist, Tricia Bent-Goodley, professor of Social Work at Howard
University School of Social Work, encouraged writers to be aware that domestic
violence victims span the demographics, with women of all socioeconomic and age
“You have the power to break the stigma, to show women are
resilient and not just sitting around as victims,” Bent-Goodley said.
Wright also related the powerful story delivered by panelist
and social worker Jacki McKinney. She was sexually abused as an infant, later
ostracized by her community because of it, and subsequently developed
depression and mental illness. McKinney now works as a consumer advocate at
McKinney said television programs and movies rarely depict
people recovering from a mental illness and only show them in a negative light.
Social workers can continue to serve as health and mental
health experts for Hollywood writers seeking realism in their stories,
according to former NASW President Suzanne Dworak-Peck, who attended the panel
discussion. She founded the NASW Communications Network, which assists the
media and entertainment industry with resources about social issues.
“Social workers are skilled in addressing a client’s
psychosocial care. The media and entertainment industry can benefit from
learning more about us,” Dworak-Peck said.
She said Hollywood writers want their stories to be
entertaining but also accurate. “We, as social workers, have a critical role to
play in providing that accuracy,” Dworak-Peck said.
Other speakers included Colleen Keenan, a nurse and interim
director of the University of California, Los Angeles Nurse Practitioner
program; and cancer survivor Stacey Owens.
From June 2011 NASW News. © 2011 National
Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved. NASW News
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