Writing in Black and White

The recent announcement of the Oscars nominees, and how white they all are, brought up the discussion of ethnic diversity in the movie industry. David Oyelowo, star of “Selma” has said in an article in the Hollywood Reporter that…

“We, as black people, have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.”

– From the Feb 2nd issue of the Hollywood Reporter

The article later mentioned two successful, black-centric movies, “12 Years a Slave” and “The Butler”, which kinda prove his point. How come these movies, which I have not seen yet, were critically acclaimed and nominated for Oscars, yet “Selma”, which I also have not seen yet, has been lauded for Oyelowo’s performance and Ava DeVernay’s directing (although the movie has been nominated for best picture), and didn’t receive more nominations?

In all honesty, I can’t really comment on these pictures and assess their worth or merit, having not seen any of them. “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma” are two I’d definitely like to see, especially the former and its connection to Canada, even if its Brad Pitt playing a Canuck.

As for the issue of race when it comes to the prominent people in movies or TV, maybe its part of my Canadian-ness, but the colour of a person’s skin in a show isn’t something I notice, or care about.The only time I do notice it is when a certain stereotype is played up. If it is for comic effect, it can be funny. But if its done just to show how “ethnic” a person is, its kinda insulting.

But if I had to pick some directors or actors, Antoine Fuqua is one of my favourites. From”The Replacement Killers”, which I watched because of Chow Yun Fat, through “Training Day”, “Tears of the Sun”, and “The Equalizer”, I have enjoyed his work. I may not agree with Spike Lee’s more radical opinions, but he is a top-notch filmmaker. The Hughes Brothers have shown diversity, making films like “Menace II Society” and “Dead Presidents”, which portrayed gritty violence and black youth, to “From Hell” and “The Book of Eli” (one of my favs). Although Tyler Perry’s Madea movies aren’t my cup of tea, they have revealed a market that Hollywood didn’t know existed, and have continued to tap. As for actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Terrance Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Denzel Washington, and Viola Davis are just a few I named off the top of my head.

As a writer, one of my biggest influences and inspirations came from a man named Dwayne McDuffie. Although he did great work before, it was his influence on DC animation’s “Justice League” and later, “Justice league Unlimited” that allowed me to see his strength and style of writing, and how it could influence me. I was even lucky enough to chat with him once on the phone. It was before he got his Justice League gig. I emailed him for advice about protecting my comic book characters. He responded by asking for my phone number. When I sent it, a few days later, he actually called me! It was incredible! We didn’t talk for long, but the fact he took time out to give advice to a nobody really showed his true character.

Maybe that is what all this talk of race should actually come down to, character. The character created, how they are portrayed, and the character of the people bringing the story to life.

As a writer, I’ve created hundreds of characters. Some I have an image in my mind of what they look like. But there are others that race isn’t a prominent feature or description as to who they are, especially in the Infinatum, where there’s a whole other race of beings (irregulars) where I can play out racial issues. I have also created characters with a specific ethnicity. IE: I wrote a script featuring three hitmen and their involvement with a woman and her daughter. I made one character Native American and one character Mexican because I was thinking of Wes Studi and Danny Trejo.

They say that writers write what they know, which subconsciously may involve the creation of characters that they feel they can relate to, thus being whatever ethnicity they happen to be. I don’t really have a problem with that, but wouldn’t it be more interesting to have different characters, with different ethnic histories or backgrounds? Maybe that’s why sci-fi and fantasy writing is more attractive, because writers aren’t bound to what they know. For them, the sky is not the limit.

Personally, I think Hollywood has a race issue, and that David Oyelowo has a point. But it’s something that can be fixed, if some producers have the courage to hire or cast on a person’s skill and quality as opposed to basing it on a system created by a bunch of old white guys. They have to realize the world isn’t just white. It is diverse, interesting, and fascinating.

Let’s hope a day comes when producers of television series/ movies and feature films pick an actor for a role without caring what race, gender, or sexual orientation the person is. Sure some roles require a certain person, after all, Ku Klux Klan members can’t be black now can they. Nelson Mandela shouldn’t be played by Benedict Cumberpatch, no matter how talented he is. But outside those certain roles, anyone should be up for any role.

It’ll be interesting to see next year’s Oscar nominations. Hopefully it will be more diverse, not just because they think they need it, but because movies were made that reflect the reality of today, the rich past, the wide-array of talent and excellence.

Hopefully, all the ancient, narrow-minded, white folk will forget to vote.

I won’t tell them if you won’t.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s