23 April 2012

Why We Need More Screenwriters of Color

I'm what many would call a TV addict. I have DirecTv (with premium channels!), a Hulu queue that always hovering around 30 deep, a Netflix subscription and a Redbox account. I would say I consume about 40 hours of television a week not including the blogs and television news I consume, so it's probably the full-time job I'm not getting paid for. 

That being said, I'm not an idle watcher. I consume but I also critique and lately with all the Girls controversy and similar issues with one of my favorite shows, The Vampire Diaries, I've been doing some deep analysis of the current television climate and frankly, it's kind of sad. There was a recent study that said that all-white jury pools convicted Black defendants 16% more often than Whites. Furthermore, the presence of just one Black person on the jury made the conviction rates almost identical (even better in that instance White defendants were convicted at a 2% higher rate). I think this same dynamic plays out in the writers room. Just the mere inclusion of one writer of color can make the difference in how what we see onscreen plays out. 
For instance, after a rewatch of The Vampire Diaries first season, I was struck by the story of the tomb vampires. Given the diverse casting of the tomb vampires, it paints a picture that the fictitious town of Mystic Falls was populated by Blacks, Asians, and Whites at various class levels. Furthermore, the fact that the all-White Founder's Council, then rounds up and imprisons all of these vampires of color and strips them of their lands and businesses can be analogous to imperialism. So when these vampires escape from the tomb in 2010 and seek revenge on the descendants of the Council, who am I as a person of color supposed to root for? Is what these vampires are asking for any different from those who seek reparations and affirmative action today? When Pearl (played by the amazing Kelly Hu) asks to just reopen her general store and live in peace with her daughter Anna, am I supposed to side with the Founders that want them dead? Are we supposed to ignore that, like much of America, Mystic Falls was built on the backs of people of color and taken forcefully by White people who rewrote the history of the town to suit their needs and keep the town "safe" while they profited off of what other's built?

I know that it seems like deep analysis of what is primarily a supernatural romp but I think the presence of writers of color when these conversations happen in the writer's room would make the story much richer and deeper. Take a show like Grey's Anatomy, which is created and helmed by Shonda Rhimes. The difference is evident and inherently visual. Though the main protagonist of the show is White, the main cast has always been diverse and the guest stars even more so. This is a show that doesn't dwell on race but it doesn't ignore it either. When Meredith and Derek decided to adopt a child from Africa, a later episode addressed Derek's incompetence at dealing with Black hair from a point of view that was funny but also completely human. Rhimes has further pushed her brand with her new show Scandal which is groundbreaking because it is a one-hour drama fronted by a Black actress (something that hasn't been seen in decades) and moreover, the main character is based on a D.C. political strategist who is also a Black woman, as I've said before "that is fucking groundbreaking". And it goes to show how just that one person in the writer's room, giving side-eye, bringing up questions, making connections to a world others haven't lived in or dealt with, THAT makes all the difference. That's the change I want to see. 

No comments: