On the whitey Mcwhiteness of the Oscar nominations this year: my buddy Dan Kitrosser, who I used to teach with at Writopia, just posted the wonderful thing below — about the responsibility we have as writers, to include diverse characters in our scripts. When I write characters that venture outside of my own race or socio-economic group, I always feel even more vulnerable than I would if what I wrote was just embarrassingly personal. I run the risk of a reader or audience saying, well, you do not know what you’re talking about, you have not lived or felt this, so stop trying. But isn’t there something universally true about being a human being in a situation, regardless of race? Well….yes. But — surely there are things that I could NEVER fully understand. But then again: isn’t it worth that risk? To do the research, and at least try?
What Dan had to say:
I had a student this summer whose father was from tibet and whose mother was from china. She started to write a play and the characters names were Eric and Lisa and the play was quite boring. I asked her why the characters had names like Eric and Lisa and not names like those in her family. She said that ‘regular people’ wouldn’t be able to pronounce names from her tradition. And I told her that I had a lot of asian actor friends who would love to have roles written for them (not that they couldn’t play Lisa or Eric of course but still Lisa and Eric are more likely to be cast by white actors if they are not specified as anything else, a sad truth). And so she changed the main character’s name to Rayna and wrote a beautiful play and Writopia Lab cast a wonderful south-asian actress and it was wonderful.
It is not just up to 10 year old south-asian girls to see themselves as regular, it is up to all of us in the creative arts to create roles that both every actor can play and roles for every actor. Please, my fellow writers, directors, producers and casting directors, let’s take this ridiculous emblem of a pearly white (and boring) oscar line-up to push ourselves to write characters from all walks of life. Let’s risk getting something wrong about a character’s background in the pursuit of making them visible and let’s rely on the wisdom and care of our collaborators to nudge us away from assumption and closer to truth. Let’s risk being called racist as we try to create a story where tribes intersect and let’s make work for all of our friends, such that the phrase ‘regular people’ doesn’t refer to white people, but to boring people who get nominated for oscars.