There’s really a great post (and comments) on screenwriting, films and race on the Artful Writer in reaction to a piece on Complications Ensue. I think it’s a great debate with a lot of different viewpoints being expressed. Exactly the kind of dialogue that brings forth new perspectives.
I am conscious of gender, race and sexuality in the scripts and stories I write. Tokenism usually comes across as patronising, but I try to reflect the diversity in life that I encounter. It’s that simple.
Sometimes characters turn up as white or Indian, gay or straight, and I work with them. I don’t consciously say “oh, why not make character x a certain race or sexuality”. When I need a character I go through many different permutations of what the character is meant to express. Sometimes it will be a male Microsoft wage-slave, and other times it will be a Harajuku girl.
As a woman I’m often disappointed with how my gender is portrayed in mainstream Hollywood movies. The way to change this is to write fascinating, exciting female characters in my scripts. Not just the leading gal. The small characters, the one who support the leads, or appear for a scene or two.
People (no matter what their gender, race or sexuality) are complex. Everyone has a secret inner life. This really fascinates me. I love listening to people and discovering those incongruous details that make them unique. It’s easy to consider in my above examples that the Harajuku girl might be the more interesting person, but if written properly, the whitebread programmer could be the most gripping character in a script. Those are the types of people I try to evoke in my writing.
I’m not saying I succeed all the time. But that’s what I aim for.
Recently I vented to/at my brother while we were out driving. The subject was, in a nutshell, whether or not a writer who was not white could ‘effectively’ write about someone Afro-American. Or Asian. Etc. I have to admit I launched myself into a diatribe that I had to apologize for when I was ‘done’; not for the content, but for the energy I spent. Obviously, he’d hit a nerve when the subject was broached. I believe I began by asking him whether, as a white, middle-aged, North American, hetero male I had any right to write about anyone other than people who fell within my own demographic. I was quite adamant that effective writing, writing that resonates, writing that moves people is contingent upon being able to write about different people with the assuredness that comes from research, from empathy, from compassion. From a desire to write truthfully. Recently, I asked two lesbian friends for input when I was writing a screenplay where a woman comes out after her best friend, whom she’s loved from not-afar-at-all all her life, marries unexpectedly. I wanted to get an authentic perspective from two people from a community that was not mine. Know what? I didn’t use whatever I had gleaned from them. I did what any good writer does, and parachuted myself into that person’s perspective and wrote what seemed ‘truthful’. Did I get it all ‘right’? I’d like to think so, but in the end, who decides that? If a twenty-something female Irish writer decides to write about a character that reflects me, do I have any ‘right’ to declare as to whether she nailed him? Other than what I would refer to as the emellishments? Because I know *I* can’t speak on behalf of all white, middle-aged, North American, hetero males. So in a way, is the idea of ‘verit?’ a bit…I don’t know…unattainable? Ot is it? I apologize for veering this line of thought off where you’d originally plotted it. As a dear friend of mine once opined “That Schmadrian; always something to say about something…”
My response would be, “That Schmadrian, he needs a blog!” :)Great piece. I don’t mind you veering off into your tangential opinion at all.
Boy, that artful writer…he should publish that debate as a book. Posted there, recapped on my own blog. I say, we made race…we can unmake it…