In response to Lawrence Ross's comment on the "sisters" post below... I don't think it's unrealistic that Jerry Seinfeld doesn't have black friends. Just unfortunate. I had black friends in college and film school, but after they moved away to various places (Kentucky, Paris, etc.) I didn't have any for most of the ten years I was working in LA. Possibly because I was hanging out with science fiction geeks, who are (a) very big on civil rights and (b) pasty-white. Possibly because showbiz is so provincial. Possibly because in LA you don't actually have that many friends, just people who are trying to figure out how to use you. Anyway, it's not too hard to imagine that a parochial, shallow Upper West Sider like Jerry's character doesn't have black friends.
But most good screenwriters will make an effort to break out of that mindset, and most good directors will try to cast imaginatively. On Charlie Jade
, Tyrone Benskin plays "Karl Lubinsky," obviously not conceived as a black character. On Naked Josh
we had to work a bit to figure out how to keep our cast from being lily-white. Josh was Jewish. Nathalie was intended to be pur laine French Canadian. Eric was a shiftless womanizer, so we couldn't make him black or we'd be perpetuating a stereotype. That left Jenn. But Jenn was lesbian, so we worried "can she be lesbian AND black without coming off as a token?" Fortunately Patricia was so convincingly herself
in the role that I think we finessed the issue.
I think in general TV's been pretty good about breaking up racial and ethnic and gender stereotypes in advance of the realities of the culture. Particularly science fiction. Hopefully at some point society will catch up...
I take the I SPY approach to screenwriting and defining characters - that is, I don't address their ethnicity - just their age, gender and attitude. You never saw Bill Cosby or Robert Culp talk about the fact they were different (other than attitude).
We had this discussion in the meetings on the script I'm currently writing, and I've made my statement by not making one on the page - I just tell the story. The company is interested in seeing all sorts of faces for the roles.
I am looking forward to seeing who the casting director comes up with...
Obviously this may be self serving, but I think one of the solutions is to hire more writers of color. I applaud the idea of colorblind casting, when it is truly colorblind casting. Again, when I wrote an article about black character actors, one of the things they laughed about was the idea of colorblind casting. Each one said that for even the smallest character role, the studio knows the type they want to fill the role.
So should hiring more writers of color help? Well, just like white writers build their characters with their experiences in mind, writers of color do the same. Except with one difference. When I think lawyer, I think about thirty fraternity brothers who are lawyers. And from that, I look at their characteristics as I build my unique character. I would chose to follow them if I needed to do research. But one thing that is consistent is that all of these lawyers are black. And so on with the rest of my characters. So where a white writer would turn a white character into a black character, which is fine, I would have black characters and then add white characters. I would see nothing unusual having a black lawyer talking to a black doctor about real estate investments with a black real estate investor. Because that happens last weekend. What is natural in my world, and therefore in my writing world, may not be natural to some else not familiar with my world.
Patricia is awesome in CJ and NJ. I really like how she comes across onscreen. So much so that I'm keeping her in mind for a major role on my show. I've always been very conscious about making my cast a multi-cultural melting pot of various races and sexual orientations -- even though my 3 leads are straight & white. Yet, at the same, I tend to over-analyze how my audience will perceive some of these characters as stereotypes. I can't please everybody.
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