Monday, October 28, 2013
The black and white of it all...
Lefty who I mentioned last week and who always has 6 screenplays "ready to go" asked me to make some changes in Deadhead, my story about an aging jetliner that gets possessed by a ghost with 8 actors in the story. The jetliner is "deadheading" back to the place jetliners retire to and there's only the eight passengers, all employees.
Things turn bad when something hits the jetliner and causes it to create its own course and heads out into the darkness of the Pacific Ocean. So top that with a creature on the airplane and you got a neat little thriller.
Okay, so Lefty told me he's meeting with an African-American producer who wants to make movies with blacks. Then Lefty said this;
"Can you write in the pilot as a black person?"
First of all, I remind some of you that I am Canadian and we never had the "issue" that America had. In fact, before and during the Civil War, a lot of African Americans came to Canada where there was no slavery.
Secondly, growing up in the middle of nowhere in Manitoba (it's above Minnesota) in a town of 539 or so, we never saw any minority. In fact we (the Ukrainians) were the minority that was treated badly, as well as Jews. But never to the extent of slavery. I remember seeing a black conductor on a train and looked in awe like I was looking at a celebrity.
Then there were the movies; they did not give me a nice feeling to the American south. Seeing To Kill A Mocking Bird and then Sidney Portier in In The Heat of The Night. To this day I have never gone to the south, but there is a curiosity there... maybe one day.
But getting back to Lefty.
And changing the line of a character like this; "Sally Jackson, apprehensive" to "Sally Jackson, African-American, apprehensive."
Sounds easy enough. Takes maybe 10 seconds to make the change.
But I had another thought. Why bother at all with ethnicity. Why not leave it to the producer, in this instance, an African-American himself. Lefty didn't like that, felt it "had to be on the page".
I said that I felt like I was being condescending and maybe insulting. After all the role could be white, black, Asian or anything else. And since the African-American producer has said he's making films with black people Let the producer pick whom he wants without making it a race issue. I don't need to spell it out for him. He's making movies for a black audience and frankly everyone on the jetliner can be black, or whatever he wants. It's his movie. I don't need to tell him what color his actors are, it doesn't matter.
I told Lefty I'll leave the description as Sally Jackson, apprehensive, just as it is. It can be anybody and any color. Putting a specific racial tone to it isn't needed. He might even want to change it to be a man. That has happened to one of my screenplays. After awhile, Lefty conceded that maybe I'm right.
But I don't think I'm right, I think it's really a non-issue. Once I turn over a screenplay to a producer, it's his or her baby. And I don't need to tell him what color he chooses.