Screenwriting : Diversity in Television by Brett Hoover

Brett Hoover

Diversity in Television

Lately, I have been on a Netflix binge and have noticed that many shows that are coming out make a consistent effort to be inclusive but at least in my opinion, in many of these cases their efforts to include normally marginalized people comes off as insincere or feels more like a quota (Star Wars, Doctor Who), especially when the writers do little to make that particular character interesting beyond his or her race or sexual orientation and the character is only used as a means of speaking about that particular issue (Legends of Tomorrow). As a screenwriter, I write the characters that feel necessary and right for that particular story without regard for race or sexual orientation. I know most screenwriters do the same as well. Doing anything else seems to go against the creative spirit and be insincere. That said, it is clear that Hollywood feels differently and my question is, should screenwriters take notice and write accordingly? The business side of me says to give studios what they are looking for but the screenwriter in me is telling me to do what feels right for the story.

Bill Costantini

Hi Brett,

Well, that sucks that you feel that way about some of those characters. Maybe the shows just aren't well-written enough in an all-around way to begin with?

I've watched some great shows on cable lately that are well-written and that feature a lot of non-white/non-male/ characters. Euphoria, High Town, The Chi, Betty, and I May Destroy You are really great shows with really great characters.

I hear you about any insincerities that may come with the "obligatory (non-white) (non-hetero) (non-male character)" situations or mandates. At least in the shows that I named above, none of the characters seem to have that type of purpose. To the contrary, I think "Hollywood" and "Non-Hollywood U.S.A" have responded pretty well - forced or unforced - over the last few years in creating more shows that are more diverse, pretty inclusive and really good. I can't speak for what is produced in India, Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, etc...but things have really become more diverse lately, - at least here in the states - and I like that.

Best fortunes in your creative endeavors, Brett, and stay safe!

Dan MaxXx

Statement by WGA west Black Writers committee. Basically the game is rigged before anyone plays.

Bill Costantini I started watching I May Destroy You. Many more young TV creators are taking charge of their shows, from casting to staffing. There's more platforms now to take your talents to, compared to 10-15 years ago where there was like 3 Major TV network Buyers and Cable programming. Checkout this Vulture article on Michaela Coel. She said no to Netflix's offer and fired her Agents for doing backdoor $ deals without her knowledge.

Gaba Shongwe

Hi Brett,

Your post is so on point. I've been conflicted about the very same point you've raised. The current spirit of inclusion has opened so many doors for many writers across the board, however, it does feel like at times the craft takes a back seat to - once again - the industry standard of how things should be done. Don't get me wrong, this is truly a blessing especially for marginalized groups as I can fully attest to as an African screenwriter. However, as a screenwriter, story still stands as the primary motivation. Maybe the focus should not be on diversity of the characters themselves but the stories that are being told. All writers and people in general, regardless of societal groupings, communicate from a particular point of experience (I believe), so creating characters to fulfill certain societal expectations while drawing away from the experience that's trying to be translated is rather arbitrary. Coming where I come from, I am not sure if I am able to answer your question. Although, I've been raised on Hollywood stories and as not only a film student but a consumer of these stories, I believe inclusion does not necessarily mean the art of storytelling should be diluted on any level. I believe as a writer your duty is to communicate a certain world, a perspective. And that if your world is able to encompass a large array of experiences then all the better. But if not, that's okay too. Because, you see, sometimes that leads to insincere representation of truths you aren't truly in tuned with. And more so, you find yourself failing to be true to not only yourself and your writing, but the craft. With that said, I am still trying to figure it all out myself so definitely take these words with a pinch of salt. Stay blessed.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

If I feel like diverse characters are what's required to tell a story then I'll include them. Not because Hollywood or anyone else wants me to do so. Anything forced feels disingenuous. I've written thirty-six screenplays. Six of those screenplays have people of color in most of the lead roles. I've written a screenplay with Hispanic leads and LGBT leads. I did it because I believed the characters were compelling and entertaining. Last week, I submitted to a producer looking for African American Stories with female leads. The producer requested my gangster script involving baseball played by people of color during the 1930s. If I get this gig it will be because of my ability to convey a story that's entertaining and feels genuine. Beyond that, I don't give a rat's ass what anybody else expects from me. It's hard enough to get writing a gig these days. I'm not going to hamstring myself to suit other peoples agendas or expectations. My new script is a female sports comedy with LGBT and straight characters. It's audacious and I'm certain I'll elicit various reactions. Isn't that what good art is about?

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Mister Bill Costantini: You're right. I've watched many different shows with diverse actors on cable. Some of the program were boring but I don't recall thinking, This show seems intentionally diverse and therefore it sucks. If I don't like a show it's usually because the writing is bad. An example of a great cable show was the second season of The Terror, which aired on AMC this past fall and featured a largely Japanese cast. The acting, story, tone and production was fantastic set against the backdrop of the American interment camps in WWII. Have you seen it?

Brett Hoover

Bill Constantini I agree with all your points and I'll tell you why I named the shows and movies above as examples of what I was talking about. In the new Star Wars sequels Finn and Rey were main characters and had the potential to be great, memorable characters but too often in those movies these characters weren't given much to work with. It was as though the writers felt that their gender and race were all that was needed to make them interesting. I felt like that was a shallow representation as people are so much more than their race, gender and sexuality. Legends of Tomorrow is a good example of using popular characters in the LGBTQ community as a means of being woke and really nothing more. They go back to certain places in time for no other reason than to show there were times when this wasn't accepted. Which would be fine and sometimes important to show but not when it is the main premise of having that particular character. Take me for example, I am a white male who is in a wheelchair but I am so much more than that. I am a father, husband, author, screenwriter and much more. If I was writing about myself I would hope that I would include all these different aspects instead of just focusing on my race or disability. Movies that just focus on specific things like that are just boring but I feel like sometimes Hollywood just doesn't care or is lazy about their character creation. I'm not saying every representation of normally marginalized communities in shows or movies are done for the wrong intention. Gaba Shongwe, I do believe many movies and shows have the best of intentions. It's just sometimes I worry that if I don't have a strong female lead in my screenplays that I am condemning my screenplay to the trash bin in some studio no matter how good it may be.

Paul Grammatico

Phillip Hardy. I'm a big The Terror fan. I saw both seasons and thought they were excellent! The second season displayed how unfairly Japanese-Americans were treated during World War II. It was gripping, frightening, and poignant. George Takei was one of the producers and creators:

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Paul; AMC has put out some shows that other networks should continually aspire to create. I've seen both seasons of The Terror and think it's brilliant. The fact that the first two seasons are so completely different adds to it exceptional quality..

Dan MaxXx

I hope you all know the TV staff writer is the lowest position of power and usually the least paid employee on the creative side.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Dan M:

I'll be happy to take that gig if somebody wants to hire me.

WL Wright

There's enough platforms to get every heart's desire fulfilled. Choice is great and I'm good with that.

Tony Ray

It all comes down to realistic precedent. For instance, in the story I'm writing there's a special forces type group that has a brother and sister that are white, a man who resembles an Asian, and another man who looks Middle Eastern (the story takes place in a fantasy world). It's realistic that an army group of any kind would have people from different regions and backgrounds in it, therefore it fits in naturally. Plus we should also remember that real diversity is there when you don't notice it. So perhaps it's not such a bad thing that we notice it now because maybe these are just the first steps towards deeper diversity. And maybe a better world. Just my opinion though.

As for the whole Doctor Who comment, I'm presuming it was about Jodie Whittaker taking over the helm. In this video at 8:27, they actually talk about the Doctor being able to switch genders. (To be fair, I didn't know that either until I saw it. =)

Doug Nelson

Yes Dan M, I recall those days - low pay, long hours, lots of stress and no respect. Sounds like a dream job; yeah?

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