Screenwriting : Politically Correct Writing.....? by Jessie Bernard

Jessie Bernard

Politically Correct Writing.....?

As a screenwriter sometimes you battle with telling a true and realistic story and using your platform to promote seemingly negative stereotypes but in fact are incredibly realistic. I'm having that problem right now! What do you guys do? Do you feel you have to use your platform responsibly or do you not bother with the politics of it all and just write what you want?

William Martell

Totally what Lisa said: make your characters human and three dimensional. The politically incorrect stuff seems to vanish when your characters are all fleshed out people.... and her CRASH example is a great example. Fleshed out characters are more interesting as well. When it comes to situations you want to do something that we haven't seen before, so if the cliche isn't politically correct... well, the real problem is that it's a cliche. You want to do something original instead.

Richard Toscan

Write what you want and tell a good story with complex characters to support that. Otherwise, you'll end up writing didactic plays and screenplays where the message/theme overrules character development and in most cases, bores audiences.

Jessie Bernard

Great points of view! Thank you artists.

Jessie Bernard

Alle. You present good points but your response is shrouded in negativity. You should work on being more positive and tactful. Thanks for your response, anyhow!

Rosa Lafantastica

Like most things, "political correctness" is subject to interpretation and argument. I was recently called a "climatard" on Twitter, which I assume is derived from "retard". (Apparently I am "retarded" for believing climate change is real.) I think there are few people out there today who would put "you're a retard" in a script because it has simply gone too far off the charts for what is considered acceptable. That said, I think there are very FEW absolute no-nos which ALMOST everybody has agreed to relegate to the past. When Seth MacFarlane hosted the Oscars, one might argue he went out of his way to be politically incorrect, with crude humor about Hollywood Jews and the "We Saw Your Boobs" song. Some people laughed and defended him, while others (including me) did not find it remotely funny. Some call it "pushing the envelope", and argue against censorship, and ask people to lighten up, and tell us that comics make fun of anybody and anything. And clearly there were Academy Awards producers who did not think there was a political correctness problem there. So where do you draw the line? That's the real question, and there is still plenty of disagreement about that. But if you are the writer, you should at least be mindful of the fact that certain things have the potential to alienate a chunk of viewers. Is that what you really want to do? If you don't care whom you alienate, then write whatever you want. If you want to reach a broader audience, you need to be more thoughtful...and know that not everybody is going to accept "irony" or "sarcasm" as explanations.

Dave McCrea

William's and Lisa's points are great, I never thought of it like that. I think you can get called out for stereotyping if you look down on a character rather than love the character and respect their way of living as well. However, I don't like when people go out of their way to avoid any stereotyping as it doesn't reflect the reality that I see. There are cultural trends and identifiers. I don't need a survey done to know that more people who drive a Prius would lean liberal and I do think Asian highschoolers have better stats with the math and sciences than non-Asians, but if you have a script that consists only of Asian math whizzes, young black men who like basketball and rap and nothing else, and liberals that drive Priuses - they're not characters, they're 1-dimensional cliches.

Rick Reynolds

The trick is to be completely politically incorrect, but tactful. It's a dance. See: Stand-up comedy. Titus, Attell, Stanhope, Oswalt, Hart, Bobcat, Bamford, Burr.... Study their tact, study their rhythm. It will help with your story regardless of genre. If your goal is to offend in a kick the cat moment, then it's less important to be tactful, but I still maintain responsibility for it. The difference between bigotry and stereotyping can be as simple as tone and intent.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Jessie, just tell the story as authentically as you can. Tell the truth and be willing to go down that rabbit hole. Don't filter or dilute. As others have already said, flesh out those characters and make them imperfect, complex, three-dimensional human beings. Best wishes to you!

Steven Seidman

Your characters are your characters don't change them because of society. Make your character's real. Think of it like this you wouldn't write your script to seem cool and make a character something he's not because you want it to come across a certain way. So apply that to this.

Angel Nunez

I think the term "political correctness" has to be thrown out the window. I know who I am and what I want to be called and I give the same deference when writing about people who are not like me. That is your responsibility as a writer. You can be truthful without being disrespectful. Stereotypes are a crutch. Lazy writers (George Lucas) use them all the time. The best writers turn them on their heads.

James Chalker

The term political correctness was coined by people who missed the good old days when they could be sexist/racist assholes with impunity. In a society with slowly evolving standards of decency, writers can, or perhaps should, try to incorporate those standard into their stories. It's an imperfect process and there may be legitimate disagreements on what is acceptable. Often in writing you deal with ignorant, ugly people, whose standards of decency are wanting and it is necessary to expose those people for what they are. If you have a character who's a Klansman, it usually wouldn't make much sense for him to refer to Black people as African Americans. Certainly scatological stuff often sells, and people should have the right to write that stuff; just like I have the right not to buy it or to criticize it when I see it.

Liz Warner

Stereotypes exist for a reason: they are largely considered true. What people object to are negative stereotypes (even if they might be largely true.) Personally, I ignore political correctness, but that doesn't mean I want to gratuitously insult an audience. One subtle way to deal with the issue as a writer is to designate age/sex and a few pithy personality characteristics in a script without ever mentioning race or other qualities people may get uptight about. This leaves it to casting if you're lucky enough to get it produced. A more direct way is to take the stereotype and flip it on its head. Could make for a more interesting character. I've also used political correctness as comedic relief before. Who can't recount some ridiculous application of it?

James Chalker

Um, stereotypes are not "largely considered true." At times they have a tenuous connection to reality, but that really doesn't make them "true."

Liz Warner

@James Chalker: Um, that's exactly what "stereotype" means, although it may be politically incorrect for me to point this out to you. But what do I know about words? I'm "just" a writer!

James Chalker

Well Webster doesn't agree with you: 2 stereotype noun : an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic

Dave McCrea

Lisa let's not forget it was Hollywood who cast a black man as President before there actually was a black man as President. Hollywood is one of the most politically correct and socially progressive industries out there. Yes it's run disproportionately by white men, but what industry isn't?

Dave McCrea

Clippers, Lisa, Clippers.... I thought you were an L.A. girl. But yeah this is embarrassing for them. Now if they go to a restaurant they have to hope they don't run into Katzenberg or Kevin Hart.

Liz Warner

< @ James Chalker: Well my everyday go-to New Oxford American says --"a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing..." (emphasis mine) so I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree on this. At least we're not "arguing" over what the meaning of the word "is" is, though. lol

Michael L. Burris

Don't write out of passion. At least that's what I heard. A cause of political correctness would be passion, I believe.

Basil F. Quill

I'd rather agree with Lisa. Give priority to your story. But also be open to feedback from producers/agents. Best of luck!

Michael L. Burris

Hum, I always thought racism was the mind of not understanding, blame or frustration and political correctness was the heart or passion of at least giving the facade of caring. Interesting, I suppose maybe both views might have some rightness too them. I also believe that something said in the state of automaticness of a moment is more from the mind and is not necessarily the words of the heart. Perhaps that is naive but it's at least what I want to believe. Michael L. Burris "I want to believe nothing is pointless"

Jessie Bernard

Arnold. I could taste the sarcasm. I would argue your point but I feel that this would turn into something totally different from my initial question. Let me say...CONSTRUCTIVE and SERIOUS responses are most welcome ☺️

Kevin Dombrowski

Write a story you care about. That's it, that's all. Anything more or less and you're a sellout. It's that simple.

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