This week I engaged in quite a lot of debate in the twittersphere, mostly with white males, who told me that if I’m so unhappy with the state of diversity and whitewashing in Hollywood, I should go out, create, and be the change I want to see in the world.
Well at first I was like, duh, non-white filmmakers are obviously already out there, creating their own content and being wildly successful at it. I don’t need you to tell me that, silly white man.
The more it happened, the more I got annoyed. Keep in mind that this is entirely my opinion, but white filmmakers/creators are entirely capable of contributing to and should be interested in diversity in film. Seeing as though they’re sitting pretty in a privileged position at the top of the ladder, shouldn’t they make more of an effort?
If filmmaking is their job, if they’re being paid to make films that will be sold to audiences, shouldn’t they be more invested in representing that audience more accurately? Especially in cases where whitewashing is involved?
Here’s one idea. If you’re making a film and are worried you won’t get funding unless you whitewash the characters, MAYBE DON’T MAKE THE FILM. Pick another story with all white characters. Consider for a moment that maybe it isn’t your story to tell.
I, like many, many, MANY, others, am not white, but I’m watching films and television. I’m buying film tickets and I want to be entertained, moved, challenged and most importantly, to be able to identify with the characters on screen. If I’m feeling this way, I can guarantee that there are thousands of others like me.
When I argued the point that some people don’t have the means or ability to create what they want to see and so their argument was unfair, someone had the NERVE to say this:
What in the dang heck?
First of all “blacks” sounds a little weird from your mouth, dude.
Second of all, I’ll scream this from the rooftops: non-white people are already creating! We’re already celebrating ourselves and we’re already pushing for change! But you know what? There’s only a certain amount we can achieve if white people – who are privileged enough already, and benefit from the structures currently in place – don’t want to help change this systematic imbalance of diversity on screen.
There’s a completely warranted concern from white writers and filmmakers that because they’re white, they can’t accurately create a fully formed non-white character. I would argue that you’re more than capable.
Look at your characters and really break them down. Is the colour of their skin in any way important to their personality or story arc? If the answer is no, then congratulations! There you go, you can go ahead and cast a non-white actor in the role!
This to me, is a much more effective and less dangerous of incorporating diversity into your stories. You will be far less likely to create a stereotypical and offensive character this way. Unfortunately, if you write with a particular race in mind, as a white creator you run a real risk of doing a disservice to the characters you’re writing, even if you have the best of intentions.
Be open to collaboration and critique, from both white and non-white writers, and especially people of the race you are trying to write.
More importantly, don’t be scared off by the difficulty of writing diverse characters. Embrace the opportunity for collaboration. I can assure you the end result will be far more fulfilling and rewarding.