Casual reminder that Lena Dunham thinks writing a black woman would be too much of a stretch b/c of dif life experiences… while Kerry Washington is standing right there.
Fab black prep school ladies represent.
I tend to fall in the “don’t try to typecast diversity because it just makes it awkward for all of us and the problem is structural and therefore not necessarily the artist’s responsibility” camp. But it’s true, Lena could at least try—Black nerds, multiracial hipsters. But she probably would fail, or people would say that she failed, and she has a pretty remarkable winning streak (I know it’s due to her privilege, but also her talent).
The topic of the night is Girls and Lena Dunham and some of the crappy stuff she and her writing staff have said about the lack of diversity on her show…
But the “don’t try to typecast diversity” comment comes up a lot. For example, I’ve seen it come up in conversations about adding diversity toStar Wars. There’s usually feigned concerns about how it would feel “like too much of a political agenda” or “too forced” and fear that the inclusion of more characters of color would be “unrealistic.”
(The idea that having an all-white male cast in a galaxy far far away, or the fact that having an all-white woman cast in NYC could be actually more of “an agenda” or “forced” or “unrealistic” falls away.)
We have to stop relying on the “but it could be awkward if we add diversity” excuse and start critically examining the “it is awkward when there is no diversity” reality.
If you identify as a writer and if you write professionally, then it is your job to continually develop your craft. Part of that includes learning new skills. If you are not born with the innate talent to know how to write diverse characters (who is?) then perhaps it is part of your responsibility to grow as a writer and practice and observe and learn and seek out different perspectives. This allows you to grow your craft. It should also help you better understand “the human condition” and what makes any of your characters and writing relatable to others.
Yes, there is a reasonable fear that in writing characters with different experiences than yours, different cultures than yours, etc. you could royally mess it up. That is a risk you take when you write a character with life experiences outside of your scope of experience, and why good authors do research and consult and read. Don’t know how to write a soldier on the front lines of war? Read the books and essays written by soldiers who have experienced it. Find people who are interested in collaborating with you who have had those experiences. If you find a character or story that you are not in a position to tell (eg. this is a community of people whose voices are regularly appropriated by others) then by all means, don’t write over their stories…step sideways and uncrowd and amplify those voices.
This means that if you are worried that your writing will be “typecast” or “stereotypical” or “tokenizing” then you need to take a close, hard look as to why. AND, if you happen to be an award-winning showrunner and screenwriter with a television show and a writers budget, it means you have the resources to seek out collaborators whom you can work with to create realistic representations.