“Over a century and a half to the present day…you see the evidence of slavery as you walk down the street…The prison population, mental illness, poverty, education.”
Oscar-nominated director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
2013 New York Times Interview by Nelson George
“In the vast majority of stories, the hero’s overall change moves from slavery to freedom.”
The Anatomy of Story
One of the roots of this blog is steeped in African America culture. Annye L Refoe, Ph.D., was my creative writing teacher in high school. It was in one of her classes I first wrote a dramatic script and directed a video. As a black woman raised in Sanford Florida (yeah, same place where Trayvon Martin was killed) she opened up a new world to a class of white students via the writings of Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Where Watching God) and showing us the film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun.
In my very short stint playing football at the University of Miami I heard stories of black players raised in Overtown during Miami’s riots , as a photographer in L.A. I did photo assignments in Watts and Compton and heard gang stories, and I’ve been in prison chapels where blacks made up 85% of those in attendance and heard some of their life struggles.
At the same time, some of the scariest situations of my life were racially centered. Being cornered by four black youths in Florida when I was ten years old, taking a wrong turn on the South Side of Chicago after midnight, and being yelled at from two feet away for having a video camera on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica (which at the time had a higher murder rate than Haiti).
I’ve at least seen the view from both sides of the street.
It’s said that many white Americans can go through a whole day without encountering a black person, but the opposite is not true for most black Americans. I don’t pretend to fully understand the struggle of black people, but as a human being I am sensitive to the issues. It sticks with me when actor Jamie Foxx told Oprah Winfrey, “I was called a nigger almost every day in Texas.” For many whites the Civil Rights of the 60s is old news, and slavery of the mid-1800s is ancient history. Look, “We even have a black president now.”
Yes, there have been great strides on some levels. Heck, the biggest home I’ve ever been in was NFL great Deion Sanders’ 28,000+ square foot house in Dallas where I did directed a video shoot a couple of years ago. Tyler Perry’s net worth of over $400 million makes him according to one website the fourth financially successful filmmaker in America. But only he and Oscar-nominated writer/director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) are in the top fifty.
There are still wide gaps in our culture. And we still live in a world of much racial tension. Some have called 12 Years a Slave “Oscar bait.” If Steve McQueen wins Oscars for best director and/or best picture there will be those who say it’s because he’s black. And if he doesn’t win in either category some will say it’s because he’s black. There’s lot of wisdom in that William Faulkner line from Requiem for a Nun , “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” One of my favorite all-time book titles is taken from a Yeats poem by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe for his book Things Fall Apart.
Pick any period of world history and you’ll find Koyaanisqatsi—The Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance.” (See Godfrey Reggio film Koyaannisqatsi.) We can go back and forth on the political, economic and spiritual solutions to finding peace and harmony in a world where good and evil exist. But it’s hard not to at least metaphorically agree with the thought that, “We are reminded daily that we live outside the Garden.”
“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon written by Lawrence Kasden & Meg Kasden
This whole global quest we’re all on for equilibrium is why I love storytelling in general, and films specifically. Artists are like those people waving large finger pointer signs at auctions telling everyone where to look. Movies at their best stir up questions and offer hope.
Here are 25 links from this blog over the years centered around blacks and filmmaking:
Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting –I happened to be in Atlanta the week Coretta Scott King died.
Martin Luther King Jr. Special –A multi-media project I produced with artist Gary Kelley
Blacks in Black & White “We’re a great country. We’ve got great stories. And for the most part, the great stories of people of color have not been told.”—Spike Lee
“Super-Serving Your Niche” (Tyler Perry’s advice to Edward Burns)
The Father of Film (Part 2) Touches on Spike Lee on D.W. Griffith
40 Days of Emotion Touches on the whipping scene of Denzel Washington in Glory
The Black List Annual Report (2013) Franklin Leonard
And let me give a shout-out to Brian McDonald who writes The Invisable Ink Blog. I believe he’s the only black writer to have written a few books on screenwriting; Invisible Ink, The Golden Theme, Ink Spots.
May the stories you tell—to borrow Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard’s words, “nudge the world a little.” And may they nudge it in the right direction.
P.S. I know there are efforts being made helping minority screenwriters and welcome you passing those websites on to me in the comments or via email at email@example.com
Writers Guild of America, West Diversity Department
CBS, Writers Mentoring Program
Deadline article about Warner Bros. diversity connection with The Black List ““For a black kid from Georgia, I’m acutely aware of the access issues the industry struggles with, and I’m excited to be part of a first step toward addressing this.”— Franklin Leonard
The Black List Newsletter Follow the links for Warner Bros Submission requirements
Fox Writers Intensive (FWI) “The Intensive is designed to introduce experienced writers with unique voices, backgrounds, life and professional experiences that reflect the diverse perspectives of the audiences Fox creates for to a wide range of Fox showrunners, writers, directors, screenwriters and creative executives.”
Diversity in Hollywood, NAACP
Universal Pictures’ Emerging Writers Fellowship,Seeking New and Unique Voices
In the While Room With Black Writers “There’s this thing in Hollywood, a ‘diversity staff writer.’ Most every writing room has one…”—Beejoli Shah
Organization of Black Screenwriters, West Hollywood
BuzzFeed interview with Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) : “I’m from a small town in Wisconsin, but even when I’m in New York and I’m working for MSNBC or CNN, you’re used to being the only black person in the room. You spend your life in this space where you’re constantly seeing people who don’t even know perhaps they’re being a little dismissive of people of color, let alone the ugliness that you hear on a daily basis. So at times when people say that [racism] is bubbling up, it’s just bubbling up to a level where they’re aware of it.”