Screenwriting : Diversity in Our Writing by Rebecca D Robinson

Rebecca D Robinson

Diversity in Our Writing

How are you consciously including all people - colors, genders, sexual orientation, ages - in your writing?

Lynn H. Elliott

My screenplay is about the demise of the California Indians. Once there were 500 tribes, now just 105. What happened? Began in mission period on California.

Rebecca D Robinson

In my near-future TV miniseries, I forgot to include some ethnic groups in my writing, especially African Americans living in the South. After reading my script, a friendly reader asked me about their role in my future North America. What did they do? Where did they go? I was chagrined at my negligence, so I went back and rewrote the experience of them and other ethnic groups. It was something about which I had to learn and change my behavior.

Rebecca D Robinson

Lynn, in my opinion, decimation of the native peoples of North America was the real original sin of this country, Slavery - horrifying and terrible. Something which needs to be admitted and apologized for. But cultural genocide and theft on a grand scale by the colonists!! These are the twin pillars of perfidy that our country stands upon.

Lynn H. Elliott

I love the questions that became your prompt for further study, Rebeccca. I am an immigrant, 20s, from Wales. I came here with my European questioning of history. Our history is power, violence, dominance, Machiavellianism, unsanitized. So what of that of my adopted land? I set myself a task: name one California Indian tribe. Then two. Then three. I think I stopped there! Couldn't go any further! And yet, as I say, once there were 500. So what had happened? I went back through the racist California governors of the 19th century determined to wipe out the natives and finally arrived at the beginnings: the mission era. So what happened in that period? Why were the neophytes ("baptised natives") so unprepared to face the coming of the white man from the east?

Rebecca D Robinson

I guess it would be like aliens landing on our planet with superior firepower and a really bad attitude that we just couldn't comprehend. There was nothing in their experience to prepare them for the religious arrogance and racism of the Spaniards and all the other Europeans. The English were the worse, but the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese were not far behind.

WL Wright

I don't mention it, period, you can decide in your own head what color a character is.

Michael Elsey

5 or 6 hours is a lot of time!!! I use the Pomodoro technique. 25 minutes writing a 5-minute break, the last break is ten minutes. One session is 4 sets. I do two sessions, One early morning. One mid-afternoon. It gives me about a three and half hours of writing time a day and that is a good fit for me. The technique makes me sit down and do it when before I would just try to fit it in when I could.

Rebecca D Robinson

Hmmm...I did have to talk about certain populations, tho, since Confed was so clearly racist and misogynistic.

Rebecca D Robinson

I like that technique Michael. And how do you work diversity into your writing?

Doug Nelson

My advice - don't deal with it in your writing. Take it up with the Casting Director.

Michael Elsey

Oops, I may have posted under the wrong one Rebecca. I thought I was posting under your comment about writing for 5 hours! Sorry. Red face. So to answer your question I typically will write scripts that call for a diverse cast. For example, my script about migrant workers includes a very diverse population. A script about missionaries in China also demanded a diverse cast. Once I do a few rewrites I also try to have a diverse collection of friends read the script especially asking them if they spot anything that seems off and wrong.

Rebecca D Robinson

Good. I like that. My problem was that I had never visited or lived in the South, so kind of forgot about their issues. I'm glad you're paying attention!

Dan Guardino

I agree with Doug. Unless it is vital to the story I let the producer and or casting director decide. That is what they get paid to do not me.

Carl Pepper

I really never think of this topic when I am writing non-fiction or fiction. Why, because whatever genre I write on, I research the era and what I find is that all ethnicities and genders, ages were indeed present! So I incorporate them into my screenplay's, it is real! Often I find an ethnic color of a man/woman that I introduce into my scripts as a supporting characters, it is diverse and interesting in fact.

When it comes to the sexuality of characters, thats up to only me, no one else! I drive the content of my screenplays, because its mine! lol

Rebecca D Robinson

Ok good to know!

Rebecca D Robinson

Thanks Carl!

Carl Pepper

There's an old saying that has survived thru the centuries," You can please most of the people some of the time however, you can not please all of the people all of the time". So true...

Carl Pepper

You are welcome Rebecca...You know, in my current screenplay I have so many ethnicities throughout not just because of it being real and non-fictional, it has added tremendous depth to the piece! One role is of a black american with his wife and son that I introduce in the second Act which is a very powerful role indeed in 1935 when the Depression was still so evident. It really shows a great bonding between ethnicities of how we can move mountains when americans come together in harmony.....

Rebecca D Robinson

Yes me too.

Rebecca D Robinson

Maurice, you have done a lot of work! How about adapting a screenplay for a podcast?

Rebecca D Robinson

I want to adapt two maybe three scripts for podcasts. Let’s chat more offline.

Carl Pepper

Hi Maurice. What genres do you enjoy writing? My next screenplay has a female lead actor. It is an action/adventure genre piece where the male lead is in a suboardinate role. I like the jux-opposed position.

Rebecca D Robinson

I loved Knight and Day!

Carl Pepper

I'm there with both of you, Knight and Day was a good movie with some exception writing....

Craig D Griffiths

There is the “default white” problem for most screenplays. It you understand people have backgrounds that come with regions and race it gives you more options. It means you have to be open and learn about people (we are writers, we do this). It pays huge dividends.

Jim Boston

Rebecca, I try my best to put people of diverse ages, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds in my screenplays. Sometimes, when I'm writing, a situation opens where I can add diversity where I couldn't see it when I originally outlined a script...like when Jasmine's and Molly's departure from Benson High School's swing choir in "Really Old School" created a ten-boy, eight-girl setup. (Result: The two extra boys- supporting characters Chad and Kody- were written as an LGBTQ couple.)

I hadn't planned on racially integrating "Tin Mine," but when trying to polish that script, I made one of Sue Ellen's piano students, June, an African American. (Never mind that "Tin Mine" was set in New York City in 1939!)

Writing's my fun...but I really had a ball coming up with "Pixie Dust," "Bleeding Gums," and "Got Any More Bullets, Sister?" because of the opportunities to bring in a wider variety of characters than I usually have.

Great, great question, Rebecca! Thanks for posting...and all the VERY BEST to you!

Carl Pepper

Maurice, Great choices and yes, I am excited about the bullet point treatment. I actually wrote the first scene. It is present day and travels to three continents. I will really have to pay close attention to the obsticles, conflicts and diversions to keep the pacing in check to keep the audience thinking," who did it", without telegraphing the culprit.

I never thought about writing horror however, I enjoy a lot of Srephen King and others. Sci-Fi I hope to get around to someday, a big fan....

Tasha Lewis

That's a great question that speaks to all that Is going on in the world today. My previous projects were not vetted like that. However, my future projects will include it in a checklist. Thank you for raising that subject matter.

Rebecca D Robinson

Yep! I didn’t realize my own biases but now know better.

Rebecca D Robinson

You are welcome Tasha!

Carl Pepper

Yes Maurice and it will be challenging for me hughly. I have set the hook in the first scene. Setting certain characters into the thought process for the audience early. Appearance and casting of these actors will be of the utmost importance imo. John Houston, Sidney Pollack were great at setting the hook and casting..

The Usual Suspects is an incredible example of obsticles, conflicts, pacing and great diversion! Good call Maurice!

You have a very keen eye friend. I'd like to hear about some of your scenes...

Rebecca D Robinson

it's fun to have insight into the writing/location angle. I don't usually think about those things!!

Rebecca D Robinson

Makes sense!!

Niksa Maric

Hey Doug, here's something you seem to be forgetting.

What are the duties of a casting director?

meets with the producers, the director and possibly the writer to understand the project

meets with the production accountant for information about the casting budget, the money that'll be used to pay the actors

reads the script and make notes about all the speaking parts

creates a list of possible actors, in preferred order, for the most important parts first

What is the job description of a casting director?

A casting director's responsibilities extend beyond contacting actors or agents and holding auditions. Casting directors assemble casts that may include hundreds of actors, negotiate deals with the actors' agents and manage the contracts once the actors have signed. Casting directors become involved in pre-production.

I don't see shit about casting director deciding which character is going to be played by African-American male or female, Asian, Hispanic, White....etc. Casting director can not do that Gender-Swap BS, that's not his job, it never was.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

I write about interesting human beings. I've written five script with people of color in the leads because the subjects interested me and one was a true story adaption and my producer owns the rights. Beyond that, I try not to over think things.

Ally Shina

Great question Rebecca. I do one of two things.... I either just describe other characteristics that don't reveal race about my characters so the reader imagines the character's race on their own. Or if it's relevant like when writing characters with a certain cultural background, origins or archetypes, I state the race of the characters. Also if their race is a contributing factor to the theme or narrative of the film I will specify race.

The reason I don't mention it sometimes is because some stories work for people in general. It's just important to take into consideration stereotypical characteristics and just not write them in, because it will make your characters inaccurate to their background. But yeah I write mostly action and fantasy where race is so rarely a theme for the characters so the reader can decide for themselves how they visualise the character.

I feel it's okay to do exclude a character's race as much as possible because it won't even be my decision what race the characters will be in the end, casting and directors decide that. For my main genres it's unnecessary.

Gender is quite tricky for me, as a woman, I strive to write more leading ladies. I am failing miserably because also as a woman, I can't resist writing male leads. I don't know why... It's just so much more fascinating for me to write men. It might have something to do with my childhood crush on Arnold Schwarzenegger (I'm not proud of this at all), my Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan phase but it happened, I'm affected and it affects my work apparently. But I'm proud to announce that both my current writing project and the one I will write after it have female leads.

Craig D Griffiths

Ally Shina I include race because of the default white thing. People tend to think white unless otherwise told. We have been trained by years of TV. I think what would be interesting and not standard.

In my story AMY I went out of my way to make all the scummy people white.

It had very little impact on the story. But (for me) better than. white cops stopping those evil black and mexican drug dealers.

I also didn’t want the main character AMY to need the support of a man to solve her problems. So she is independent and gay. If I want to see a boring white face I’ll go shave.

Ally Shina

Craig, I explain that I don't do it because ultimately it won't be my decision. In fact, sometimes it works the other way around, a lot of Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg to name a few characters where written for white people. Casting is casting... and I'd rather leave my options open instead of blocking the script by trying to establish race when it's not relevant to the script. If it's not relevant, putting it in just limits the reader from liking other elements of the screenplay that could otherwise result in the script being produced. It's unnecessary and it definitely doesn't automatically mean the character will be cast white if I don't state that they are black so I still won't do it.

Dan MaxXx

this writer-director put casting restrictions on his deal. It helps when your team (reps & lawyers) are working for you than against you.

https://twitter.com/thetzechun/status/1277047534435938305?s=20

Dan Guardino

Dan M is right. The competition is bad enough without putting restrictions on who could take on certain roles as far as color goes.

Tasha Lewis

My first project on my project page covers all of the above. The goal is to help heal the world during and after all that is going on.

Rebecca D Robinson

This is an interesting discussion! It gives me a glimpse into an aspect of filmmaking that I'm unfamiliar with. My original situation that I first referenced was in world-building, where I neglected to think about the status of some people in the current South. I was chagrined when it was brought to my attention. So, I think it's very important that stories are written for all people! If you want to designate parts for certain ethnicities or genders, I think that's more than OK But, it begs the question of how much power the writer has in casting. It sounds like the writer has no say in it.

Niksa Maric

Rebecca, no story can be written for all people. People have to recognize them self in your story. In order to accomplish that, you need a plot that make sense and it needs to be entertaining. If it's written well and you somehow manage to find a good director who can turn it into a good movie, then you have a key in your hand that can open any door. Forget about diversity in your story. Your story is what it is.

Rebecca D Robinson

What about gay or trans folks? Are you consciously including them in your stories? I'm trying to.

Niksa Maric

Okay, if your script is about a Gay couple or couples or transgender person(s) then you have to include them. not only that, you will include a very few other black, white...etc. characters, as many as you need for your story 2,3, maybe 4. Once you come up with the plot, number of characters in your story and you complete the screenplay, let's say it's 98 pages long. That's it, the script is on full lockdown, you can't keep adding more and more characters nor you can remove them. No Gender-Swap, diversity, nothing. That screenplay is completed and ready to hit the production. Let me ask you something else. There are 650 ethnic groups in 190 countries. You can't include every single one of them in your script x 2 (1 male, 1 female) you can't satisfy everybody unless your script is going to have 1.300+ characters in it. You asked "how much power the writer has in casting. " At the moment, none but that's about to change and I'm not talking about some small changes suggested by someone who hasn't even read the screenplay. The line needs to be drawn at one point down the line. I wrote the script, I decide the number of characters in the script, as for you Mr. casting director, here's your Character Relationship Map, go find the actors who fit the specific age, gender, skin color....etc, I even included some examples based on actors you can't afford or you refuse to call. I'm sorry, what was that? You can't or you won't do it. Well, it that case, turn around and Fuck On. Enough is enough. If he/she won't follow the rules, why should any of us play by the same rules.

Martin Reese

Hi Rebecca. I try to write so that the characters are reflective of the society we live in, but I don't force in characters just to say I'm being diverse. For example I wrote a screenplay with a Black female protagonist. The story doesn't work otherwise. I wrote a screenplay with a gay man coming out to his parents. The story doesn't work otherwise. To me you just have to do your best to write authentic characters without being dismissive of others.

Nick Assunto - Stage32 Script Services

I'm always writing genre comedies, and I'm a premise driven writer, so there's no reason for me to ever need any of my characters to be a specific race, gender, sexual orientation, or age usually, and so for that reason I diversify it just for the sake of diversity and inclusion. Which I know is a big debate, but I figure if I don't force it on the page, those actors aren't going to get the chance to audition.

Rebecca D Robinson

I like your attitude, Nick!

Carl Pepper

Being a newbie writer but not new to the motion picture industry. I write screenplays for the art for art and entertainments sake with my objectives of my story first and foremost in mind. There are plenty of good/bad writers for all genres and all sexual orientations. So why would I want to have what I write dictated to me. The answer would be no.

Richard Banton

As a queer, Black writer, I know what it's like to be excluded so I constantly question how race, gender, and orientation could inform a character and story.

Rebecca D Robinson

That's cool, Richard Banton. Thanks for sharing!

Rebecca D Robinson

Thanks CJ. You can check out my production work at my website - amoreperfectunion.co. I produced the vids and designed the whole thing.

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