Can White Male Writers Stop Writing Marginalized People, Please?
I absolutely love seeing black women in television and film. Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented often and because of that I felt that I was ugly and worthless.
Lately, there’s been this surge of representation of not only black folk, but of different marginalized people in television and film. I do feel this is due to the pressure being put on Hollywood to do better, the different movements that were born due to the white washing and marginalized erasure of television and film, and the use of social media.
I love seeing marginalized people represented, but due to horrible writing sometimes I wonder if it's worth it.
A lot of the characters we see are poorly and/or overly written, based off of stereotypes, and overall not relatable to the community or people they’re supposed to relate to. It makes the marginalized person in the series less of an actual asset to the plot and structure, and more of a token character to get audiences off their backs.
The reason this happens is simply because they don’t understand. They don’t understand the nuanced ways that language and different dialects play in communities. Regarding the black community, we aren’t saying ‘bae’, ‘fleek’, ‘finna’, etc., to sound cool. We don’t say “They been over there-” because we are too lazy to speak standardized english or because that's the current trend Instead, it’s an actual dialect that for the most part it’s ingrained.
They don’t understand that not every conversation a marginalized people have surrounds the fact that they’re marginalized.
However, it seems as if whenever a marginalized person is written in television and film, we are written in such a way that shows we are black over being human.
Personally, I see myself as human over black. This doesn’t negate my blackness nor am I trying to debunk that label. Instead, I’m just saying that my life shouldn't revolve around my intersections, even if it does in some ways. I’m black, but blackness is also individualized and when people don’t understand that, they write you in a way where blackness is the first, and also last part in every conversation.
We aren't allowed to be written in ways where we are normal human beings having a normal life. Instead, it's "Hey, I'm black, and this is my opinion as a black person. Did I mention I'm freakin' black?"
The reason I love shows such as The Fresh Prince or Blackish, is because while blackness is mentioned, it’s not the number one topic of every single episode and show. It’s mentioned with the same nuance and cadence that comes with living while black, but it shows the individuality that comes with being black and being human. You can tell the writers are black or marginalized because of how real these characters are.
Let’s look at the show Riverdale, for example. I did some research and while some of the writers didn’t have pictures or information, the main writers that have worked on multiple episodes are in fact white. This is something I knew without having to look it up, simply because of how Josie, the main black character is written.
When I watched one of her inaugural scenes, I was undecided on how I felt. She looked at Archie, the show’s white male protagonist, and told him that he wasn’t welcome to sit in on her music rehearsal because she didn’t want his opinion as a white male on her music based on her experience as a black woman.
On one hand, I agree. I would feel very similarly. On that level I relate and I’m actually happy they included a moment like that to showcase how race gets tricky with situations like that.
On the other hand? That was her first scene. Her first scene was her screaming “I am black. Did you know I’m black? I’m black black blackity black.” That usually wouldn’t be an issue with me, however having her surrounded by a white cast, at that point in the show having only heterosexual relationships, and not giving her any other background or dialogue, I was taken aback.
There was no other example of her character outside of that one interaction, meaning that the writer wanted to assert her race before they asserted anything else about her character.
I don’t think the writers wrote the scene with bad intention or malice. I believe they were actually trying to be progressive, but at the end of the day it left a very bad taste in my mouth.
As a black natural woman, I was so happy to see a black natural woman headlining on a CW TV Show, especially given that I am an aspiring actress. However after I saw what the writers were doing with her, I felt conflicted.
I wish I could have seen a scene like that from her, once she had more development, dialogue, and her relationship was furthered with others on screen.
Let’s compare her to Mary Jane from Being Mary Jane. The writers are black, the cast is diverse within the black community, and it shows. The show isn’t necessarily about Mary Jane Paul being black, but instead about her life as a career woman trying to find love, and how race interplays with that.
There are moments in the show where race has nothing to do with anything, but then moments when it’s so in your face and it works because of how developed Mary Jane was from a character stance.
The writers are marginalized. They understand the experience that comes with being marginalized, and that’s why the characters are so much easier to watch being marginalized.
Race is important. Racial experiences are real. Any marginalized person experiences a level of hate that comes with being marginalized without a doubt, but our marginalization isn’t our entire identity, and to be presented as if it is and as if that’s the only thing we have to go by is ridiculous.
White writers need to stop marginally writing marginalized people. Hire diverse writers. Hire writers that are diverse in different facets. That’s the only way we’re actually going to get the characterization of diverse characters right.