In a perfect world, this wouldn’t even be a question. No one would ask. When I write my characters, producers and casting directors wouldn’t hold their breaths. But when you’re making your way through the industry it is absolutely an honest question. People sitting on the sidelines are probably thinking this is a really, easy answer. Except it’s not. It used to be. I used to read interviews when this were asked to other black filmmakers and get irritated that they danced around the question. I’m slowly learning why. Harshly learning why.
You meet me and I have a purple fro, African nose and all. I’ll probably start talking about Kendrick’s latest album. Ryan Coogler’s new moves. “How to Shmurda.” “Scandal.” I’m black as shit. My writing, however, is a different story. Not to say that I don’t write these characters, I do. It’s never specifically listed, unless race plays a big role in the plot, but it’s there. In my head, I write the world I live in. I write the world I wish to see. Unfortunately, that world is eons advanced than real life. Sometimes I don’t put too much racial identifiers into the description because a lot of the times my default is black. So when I write black characters who are doing really cool, non-stereotypical things it gets awkward. Because other groups don’t see it. Black isn’t their default. So, the question is brought up, “What race do you see these characters?”
Someone can argue to cast the best actors. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. The race question is asked for marketing reasons. A black film is still perceived as being limiting or alienating. Can’t sell oversees. Doesn’t do well in the box office. Yadda, yadda. The Oscar So White campaign, if it’s a real thing, has to trickle down to the filmmaking itself. As a black filmmaker, if I don’t write these characters then how will there ever be a change? If these films with black casts don’t get funded or marketed right, how will there ever be a change? All these stigmatisms about black film are why some black filmmakers choose to move away from it. Make films with casts that feature little to no diversity. Because they know they probably wouldn’t get the funding otherwise.
So, as a black filmmaker, should I write black characters?