I recently wrote a pitch for a tv movie. It was about two people involved in a real estate flip who fall in love. I’m thinking—cool. You are selling the whole package–the white picket fence and the happily ever after and the hardwood floors and subway tiled backsplash. No brainer, right?
The person I pitched it to asked could I make one of the major characters black. I balked. I said ‘no’. It’s because I write what I know. I’m not black. If I were, I would write about my experience.
The idea that anyone can write any character is nonsense. We write based on our personal experience. I can’t write with any authenticity what it is like to grow up in a third world country. I’ve been there. I can imagine. But anything I write would be so fake. It would be as if I were writing what it was like to be an alpha male. I can imagine the character. I can try to inhabit the character, but I will inevitably fail.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a great writer. But then I think about Dickens and Shakespeare and they wrote, basically, what they knew. White guys in various circumstances.
I write about white women in various circumstances. I won’t apologize for that. I write what I know.
Please let black women write black romances and black guys write black romances and gay guys write gay romances….and so on and so on. Let the community inform itself.And let the publishing community and the consuming public embrace that diversity. Because who is better than telling you a story about how it is than someone who has lived it?
Here’s John Oliver talking about the history of non-diversity in the movies. And a great piece from the Hollywood Reporter.
And then this depressing piece about diversity in Hollywood. But it’s not depressing if you’re an Aussie!
To me, the key to diversity is getting people of colour, of different ethnic backgrounds or sexuality at the keyboard. Write your stories. Write them well. And then dare the fucking world to ignore the spark you have placed on the page.
One thought on “White v Black v Hollywood”
I have read authors who really got inside the head and perspective of people from wildly different backgrounds. I think one way to look at that is: “Write what you WANT to know, and research and interview and imagine the heck out of it so you ACTUALLY know. And then get feedback from those who lived it, to make sure.” I think believing in the possibility of actually succeeding at that is an important thing for humans in general, because if it can’t be accomplished, if we can’t ever grasp how another person sees the world, and accurately imagine ourselves in their place, going through their challenges, then true compassion is closed to us. The other will forever be a total mystery. I think some of the better moments in history bear out the existence of this, but also, there is no indication that achieving true compassion is anything other than hard, brutal work that will challenge us to the depths of our humanity every time.