Like the rest of the US I’ve been thinking a lot about race and racism in the past few days. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Bechdel Test. We just finished writing a play that revolves around six women, technology, and heavy metal. I think it’s awesome.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret. It was also hard to write. It wasn’t hard to write because writing for women is hard. Writing good female characters is easy. It was hard to write because the default kept coming back “men”. Every time we needed a new character for some reason a man showed up. Plot lines twisted around to being about men. Boyfriends were called in to kneecap bad guys. And this was in a show that we had intentionally set out be women focused. It’s no wonder that when not thinking about writing for women, men dominate our stages. Changing this requires intentional action. It can’t just be a magical, mysterical, more just world that shows up because we’ve better educated our children that everyone is equal and has value. It requires intentional work.
So what does this have to do with race?
Same thing. We wring our hands and hope that we can create a more just world, but how exactly is that going to happen when a black man has become shorthand code in our media and literature? I don’t even need to fill you in. If you see a black man on the screen with no dialog you know why he’s there. He’s a default. A placeholder. Is it any wonder that our society just pulls up that same default, and walks away quickly, pulls him over, shoots him thinking he has a gun?
So here’s my challenge. I’m not saying don’t write any more bad guys who are black. I’m saying be intentional. Is there a reason for your bad guy to be a person of color (or a man for that matter)? Then change it. Shake things up. Be intentional.
You’re being a lazy writer. And propping up a racist society at the same time. So this is my challenge to you. Writers – let’s stop this shit.