Although the author wishes to remain anonymous, they want readers to know that they are from a marginalized community and are speaking from personal experience.
For more background, check out “Hollywood is Finally Addressing its Inclusivity Problem – But is it Missing the Point?” and “How is Hollywood’s Insincere Inclusivity Movement Impacting the Craft of Acting?”
Brooklyn 99 was a very important show for many reasons.
It featured a very diverse cast, tackled difficult issues such as race, sexuality, and gender, and even spent the entire last season discussing the very relevant issue of police brutality towards people of color. These are issues that desperately need to be addressed. The writers of Brooklyn 99 were very brave in approaching these social problems head-on.
However, I was so disappointed in how boring I found it. Each season, the show became more and more like a PSA. There was no subtlety in the storytelling, spoon feeding us messages instead of cleverly incorporating them into the script. Although I feel very strongly in favor of the messages the last season was promoting, I almost didn’t make it through to the end. I did not find it artistic or entertaining; I found it dull and pandering.
This was such a shame because I couldn’t imagine how many people turned off the show who needed to hear these messages. It turned into a preachy, mind-numbing yawn-fest instead of an important conversation that needed to be had. That’s exactly the kind of writing that will turn off the very audience that needs to be exposed to those messages. The entire season, I couldn’t help but think over and over again, “come on, guys, you can do better than that”.
That is, until I started hearing stories through the grapevine of writers having scripts rejected on the basis of not being inclusive enough.
Even writers who left characters open to race, sexuality, and were willing to be flexible on gender received the red light because they didn’t make the overt statement that these characters must be from a marginalized group! They’re rarely even given the chance to have that conversation with producers. Unless they explicitly stated that at least some of the characters were something other than straight, white, or cis, they hit a brick wall.
ABC even released a statement saying that they passed on many fantastic, well-written shows because they are now requiring at least 50% of the characters to be of an underrepresented group, specifically stated in the script. They did not want to produce scripts that weren’t categorically, blatantly inclusive enough. They passed on these shows without having discussions with the writers about casting actors from underrepresented groups in the roles. This seems backwards to me. The onus should lie on the studio. Instead of automatically assuming that any character of unspecified race is white, it should be assumed that casting is open to everyone. The only time there should be parameters are if the character is specifically written to be one thing.
It seems that everything has to be clearly spelled out. Nothing can be left to subtlety or cleverness. They have to get onto their soapboxes and make their cries heard.
Unfortunately, although well-intentioned, this is a plan that will end up backfiring. Instead of allowing a character to happen to be gay, for instance, we’re writing directly to stereotypes to prove to the world, “hey, we’re inclusive! We’re featuring a gay character! Look how gay he is!” We’re continuing to segregate and typecast, just in a different way. In fact, in an even more obvious way.
If we want to normalize marginalized groups, it shouldn’t be shoved into a story about something else.
Instead, casting should be left open to underrepresented groups – that is, unless it is important to the storyline for the characters to be specifically one thing or another. Stereotypes and caricatures come from trying to prove to everyone that you have a character from an underrepresented group. What we need to do is to allow for diversity in casting, and just let it be. No need for explanation. Unfortunately, however, the importance of the storyline has declined in lieu of superficial elements that have no bearing whatsoever on the story the writer is trying to tell.
That is the most important part of scriptwriting: the story. Does whatever it is you’re trying to add serve the story? If the answer is no, then there’s no use making an insincere attempt at addressing the issue. But, sometimes the answer is yes. For instance, in biopics. A black person has about as much business playing Oskar Schindler as a white person has of playing Langston Hughs. However, in a totally fictionalized story, skin color, sexuality, disability, and even sometimes gender should be open unless it is important to the story the writer is trying to tell.
This is rather tragic because writers are now being pigeonholed into very strict parameters.
It’s eliminating the need for good writing and making mediocre plotlines acceptable. Good stories are being forced to suffer because they’re inevitably buried under the buzzword “inclusivity”, which is the studios’ guise of a money grab. It’s taking away the art of storytelling. It’s taking away the writer’s freedom to tell their own story and having them tell stories that aren’t the ones they want to tell. Their messages, no matter how poignant, are being overridden by studios who want to gratify the masses.
If the goal is to normalize marginalized groups, then this needs to be approached in a different way. Characters should be allowed to be a race other than white, a sexuality other than straight, a gender other than the binary, and so on, but the audience doesn’t need to be hit over the head with it. Just let the characters be who they are, allow the actors to make the choice for themselves. If a character fits into one of those groups, it doesn’t need to be overtly stated; it’ll just be what it is. If race, sexuality, and so on are actually important to the story, then, by all means, give it the appropriate attention. But, if they’re not, then there’s no reason why writers should have to explicitly state these things.
Dog Day Afternoon is a movie made in the ‘70s starring Al Pacino and John Cazale, directed by Sydney Lumet.
It included characters from the LGBTQIA+ community, which was especially brave, considering the time period. It also touched on racism and police brutality. But, these themes are subtle, used as important parts of telling the central story. It was part of what happened and who the characters were, but these themes were not squeezed into a screenplay. Instead, they enhanced the plotline as an important piece of the puzzle because that’s who the characters were. It didn’t bend to stereotypes or preach; the characters were like real people.
If we want to address the inclusivity problem in Hollywood, we need to choose a different tactic.
Right now, not only are we actively working towards placing marginalized people into stereotypical boxes, but we are taking away from the art of storytelling. Actors are the ones that we see, so we tend to think of them before we think of the people behind the scenes. Remember that movies first come from scripts written by a writer. It’s not just the actor’s story; it’s the writer’s story. The writer has something to say, and their message is just as relevant as those that come from other marginalized groups. Let the writers use their platforms to say what they want to say. Sometimes they’re about underrepresented groups, sometimes they’re about something else. But the last thing we should be doing is dousing the flame of artistic expression.
Pandora’s Box is the anonymous account at Words Between Coasts.