Screenwriting : Write white only? by Graham Dodd

Graham Dodd

Write white only?

I am at a very early stage researching the Underground Railroad of US slavery days and its impact on a modern day black American family. These two factors are essential to the whole film. Now, I'm not American, I'm not black and most of my view of American life is through the lens of Hollywood. (Not a good start, eh?) Then I came across the remarks about Quentin Tarantino and his portrayal of black people. I quote " Quentin Tarantino is well accustomed to defending himself from “critics in black culture”, but his latest defence raises an interesting question. “If people don’t like my movies, they don’t like my movies, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter,” Tarantino told Bret Easton Ellis in a recent New York Times interview. What does leave “a bad taste” in Tarantino’s mouth, he says, is the implication that his own whiteness disqualifies him from engaging with black culture at all. “It’s been a long time since the subject of a writer’s skin was mentioned as often as mine,” he complained. “You wouldn’t think the color of a writer’s skin should have any effect on the words themselves.” So, should I just bin my idea? And if I do how far do I take this notion. Can I write only white male English roles? After all, I'm not a woman either! Any thoughts?

Owen Mowatt

Interesting topic, just hope we can keep it civil and respectful. I have two questions 1 - What is your motivation for writing about the underground railroads? 2 - From who's perspective will the story be told?

Preston Poulter

Since Quentin (white) did fairly well with D'Jangp Unchained, who main character is a former slave, it seems like you've answered your own question.

Owen Mowatt

** I think their was a prominent native Englishman in the east who helped thousands of slaves get to Canada, ** Not sure why we need to see this story from a white male perspective, Bill. Havent we seen enough of them?

Graham Dodd

Hi Owen, Your opening probably contains the seeds of the whole problem. 'Keep it civil and respectful." It's like people seeking to be offended where no offence is intended. I just wanted a straightforward opinion on whether authors / screenwriters of any colour, creed and or gender can write characters outside of their own defining boundaries. (Not just necessarily certain racial groups). I understand that some of the criticism of QT is the alleged negative way he writes and portrays black people (I hope I'm not offending anyone with that term) though many black actors are very happy to work with him. I would like to tackle a subject that is of great interest to me, and I think may interest many Americans whose origins lie in the slave states, but I don't want to set out on a journey only to be told I have no 'right(?) to tackle it. In answer to question 1. My motivation is a love and fascination of the history of mankind from the descent from the trees to the ascent to space; civilisations, cultures, nations, individuals, all are interlaced in human history. There are countless thousands of stories out there. The perspective view (as the story is shaping at present) is that of a 20th / 21st century Afro-American female doctor whose husband inherits an old house, the history of which is linked to to question 1. Hope this helps, and apologies to any if some of he terminology above is offensive to some. It is not intended to be.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great questions, Owen. :) Personally, I try to consider these issues in terms of perspective and not so much race or gender. If the writer has personal, authentic life experience and knowledge of a culture or society or gender, I do think that adds very much to the execution of a story. Now, of course, you can have perspective even if your skin color or nationality or gender is different than that of your subject matter—empathy and understanding are very powerful tools. Plus zeroing in on universal themes helps to close societal gaps as well; we are all human beings. However, as a female audience member and writer, I tire of the "male gaze"—I mean this generally. I absolutely adore men and certainly adore male writers. My observation really is about the industry and its sexism/racism, its lack of different perspectives in storytelling—but that's a whole different conversation! About this topic; I have a script with a mixed-race female lead set in 1921. She's Afro-Cuban and it is based upon true events. At first, I was apprehensive to approach this subject because of my ethnic differences, but I was so intrigued and horrified by these events I dove into research. I felt so much for this character. I posted a logline and many wonderful Stage 32 members who grew up in the area of these events or are of mixed-race themselves gave me amazing feedback and thoughts about the language/terms I was using—I don't ever wish to offend! I'm only interested in telling a great, authentic story. I was incredibly thankful for their insights. With that in mind, when I have the script polished I will seek out a few people to give me their thoughts, asking does the script resonate?

Gia El Aynaoui

Frankly, I don't see the problem. I think we as writers have to continually write outside the boundaries of our ethnicity, religion and culture. While most of my female leads are women of color, some of my male leads (and antagonists) are white. In order for film and television to expand diversity, we as writers have to break out of our comfort zones and embrace writing for roles to include everyone.

Graham Dodd

** I think their was a prominent native Englishman in the east who helped thousands of slaves get to Canada, ** Not sure why we need to see this story from a white male perspective, Bill. Havent we seen enough of them? Hi Owen, my story isn't from a white male perspective. A black American family are the central characters and the underground railway and 'escapees' (?) are a central plank of the story. When I began developing the story from an idea it did have a white brother and sister as the main protagonists, but then as I researched and read about the underground railway I thought there was a much better way of telling it - from the slaves and their descendants PoV.in fact the white couple became the 'bad guys'

Graham Dodd

Preston, I think Django Unchained was one of the movies QT got flak for, particularly for the overuse of the N word. Plus QT is well established enough to if note his critics.

Owen Mowatt

Yeah Graham, I wasn't making any assumption about your script, just responding to that particular post.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Viola Davis as Harriet Tubbs sounds absolutely amazing! —Viola Davis producing, Kirk Ellis writing and based upon Kate Clifford Larson's book?! Wow! Thanks for posting about this project, Bill. It's very relevant to this thread, of course, but I was unaware and will now keep an eye out. And congratulations on your project—what an honor! It sounds fascinating! I hope it makes it to the screen. Do you have it posted on your profile page?

Graham Dodd

Dear all, many thanks for the feedback, it's very helpful. I love this site already. Bill, thank you for the thumbs up on current Railroad themes being penned. In my story, set mainly in the late 20th or early 21st century the Railroad history is the inciting incident ( is that the correct term?) but it is not a story about the railroad as such, more of the plight , status of the refugees when they reached the 'Free states'. It would be more flashback to explain the unfolding of the modern story. I take on board your thoughts on modern slavery. It exists here in the UK as well. That in itself is worthy of someone's attention. Once again, much thanks all.

Andre Hillard

Greetings, I currently read the same article about Quentin just yesterday. I actually love his films and just watched H8teful 8 last week. I would say that it's no need to justify your interpretation of your idea, as long as the facts are on point. The African American community is very open to ideas because we have such a small piece of whats on the screen anyway, besides the breakout of Reality TV shows; and the occasional Black Drama on the big screen. I would love to see what ideas you have. I currently have a sensitive topic idea in the works myself. It's about reparations, and is somewhat of a humorous approach to what would happen if we got it. So, I say go for it....

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

Graham: Here is my perspective. I agree with my learned colleague Mister Constantini about writing about whatever topic you like. I've written a half dozen screenplays with lead characters that are African American, including stories about Angela Davis, The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, Negro League baseball and a true story about an educator who lost her daughter in a gang shootout. The first thing I never do is worry about dialect. This is not to say I don't employ colloquial language. I just use it sparingly. I endeavor to write intelligent dialogue for my characters. Consequently, I've had management at Tyler Perry read three of my scripts during the past 7 months. Nobody there has ever inquired about the color of my skin. Finally, if you've got a great story to tell, let it rip. Nothing deters me from writing the kind of script I want to see on film. If I'm ever blessed with success even remotely close to Tarantino, I'll weather any critical storm that might follow. It comes with the terrain.

Lina Jones

Good subject.

Regina Lee

Sorry I haven't read the messages within the thread. What I will say is that the new UNDERGROUND TV show has a diverse team of creators. http://www.wgnamerica.com/series/underground

Beth Fox Heisinger

Thanks for sharing Underground, Regina. It looks amazing, deeply compelling and action-packed, judging from the trailer. With John Legend executive producing, it's definitely a series I'm really looking forward to watching this spring. :)

Regina Lee

Yeah, John Legend is pretty awesome.

Graham Dodd

Thank you for the input, Regina. I've followed the link and Underground looks very good. I'm pleased to note it has diverse creators, my original question. My interest in the Underground is as an underlying theme, not as the prime story line. That said, following the series would give me a greater insight into what I want to achieve.

Regina Lee

Hi Graham, one of my favorite directors is Ang Lee. He's a Taiwanese man who has captured period Americana like no other. THE ICE STORM and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN are both wonderful movies. If a Taiwanese man can capture period Americana, then you, as a white guy, might well be able to write about non-white, non-dudes!

David Taylor

Your topic may be a bigger challenge compared to selecting - say - a story set in 1970's UK. That does not mean you should give up. Keep researching. Write yourself some samples. Then decide. It's unlikely you would write it in a month or two, so having something else on the go and taking your time is a good idea.

Graham Dodd

Good point, Regina. Well made.

Sue Lange

You can research, and you should, but at some point you have to realize that all humans exhibit the same tendencies, feelings, etc. It's just superficialities that make us different. Write honestly about the characters, use your research for window dressing.

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

Sue: Well said.

Landis Stokes

I think the most important thing is to remember the humanity in your story and be respectful to the subject matter. If no one has an emotional connection to your characters, you have already failed. Do your homework (seriously) and talk to people who have some experience or knowledge with the type of story you are trying tell. People are going to be upset no matter what you do. That's the biz. If you let them stop you, maybe you weren't that interested?

Sue Lange

Sometimes, though, Bill, the more a subject gets attention, the hotter it becomes. It might be a good time to do an underground railroad piece, just for those reasons. As long as it is unique, as you pointed out.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Watching the trailer for the upcoming series UNDERGROUND, there is a distinct difference from, let's say, Tarantino, one I find much more intriguing. I'm not a huge Tarantino fan, but I do understand his position as an artist. There is something that resonates much deeper when those involved with a project have a personal position or have spoken out about societal issues or are known to be involved with a movement of change or openly support a cause — like John Legend. Often, it is more approachable to discuss or explore societal issues by examining the past, as the past does inform the present.

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

@Tony: You have made some excellent points about Mister Tarantino. As far as his artistry, I think his last two efforts had some brilliant elements, particularly dialogue delivered by Christoph Waltz. Unfortunately, both “Inglorious Bastards” and “Django Unchained” degenerated into what I thought were silly third acts. However, Tarantino built his career on excessiveness and whether or not he has peaked, I’ll forgo rendering any opinion about that. But I digress. This thread was discussing a white writer’s view on black America. Writers are supposed to be creatures of imagination. For me, the notion of being unable to write from a “black culture” point of view or historical angle, makes about as much sense as believing I can’t write a script about soccer because I never actually played the game. I don’t always write what I know. I write what interests me. Thus far, I’ve chosen subjects as diverse as JD Salinger, the sex trade in Istanbul and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I have been particularly keen on African American History and have never believed my writing suffers from any setbacks based on my skin color or philosophical beliefs. When I write about something fact based or historical, I immerse myself into learning as much as I can about the events via written information, photographs, google maps and film or video if available. I do this bearing in mind that I’m seeking not to provide a history lesson but to entertain. I allow my imagination to insert myself into the minds of the characters I’m creating. For example, here’s what the Austin Film Festival said about my script “Four Negro Girls in a Church”: “A fresh take on a pivotal U.S. historical event and the dialogue feels authentic for the characters and the world of the story. The script offers a mostly balanced view about the conflict between blacks and whites.” Experience has taught me that observation can help with the writing process. Hunter S. Thompson hung out with the Hells Angels before writing a book about them. Having that kind of knowledge can definitely help the creative process. Conversely, I don’t believe I have to shoot myself in the head or jump off the Golden Gate Bridge to write a story about suicide. I think a lot of it has to do with attempting to convey honesty. If you do that in your writing, I believe your readers will respond in a positive way. Finally, though I believe skin color may provide a writer with insights on their race and culture, it doesn’t necessarily give them artistic domain. And don’t attempt to look through the barbed wire as an outsider. Get out the imaginary wire cutters and enter the prison.

Graham Dodd

@ Phillip, well said. My mentor says Ignore completely the tired cliche 'write what you know.' You'll never push your own boundaries that way. If a writer writes only from his/her own personal knowledge and experience and what they know their output is going to be extremely limited and most likely biographical. So, no more stories about Ancient Rome then? The writers what know are all dead. And to carry it to extreme how can women write from inside a man's head and men write from inside a woman's head? This takes us straight back to my original question. By the way, let me say again thank you to all for contributions and inputs on this topic. I'm new to Stage 32 (and screenwriting). Looking through the screenwriting lounge forums 35 comments is a LOT for a topic, so I can only surmise there is a great deal of interest in the issue The feedback and advice is much appreciated. Just to clarify things regarding the story.I said I was researching the Underground Railroad , correct, but my main story is not about the Underground Railroad or set primarily at that time. It is about an average everyday black American family modern day who inherit a house and discover that house has a link to an ancestor who escaped via the underground. My present research mainly involves the routes and the States the various undergrounds ran through. - so I can establish a location for the house where 90% say, of the story takes place.

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

@Bill C. The first time I saw "The Professionals" is when I was 10 and I loved it. The big racy line in the trailer was when Claudia Cardinale tells Burt Lancaster to "Go to hell" and he glibly replies "Yes ma'am, I'm on my way." Wow, things have changed since then. But great films remain timeless.

Graham Dodd

Bill, glad you reminded me of The Professionals. Saw it (to) many years ago. Refreshed my memory on IMDb, the 'quotes' section is priceless! Ps, thanks for your encouragement.

Karim Davis

GO FOR IT! It's the soul you put into writing that matters, colours are irrelevant! A little tip that might help your research, look up Bernado Lepallo, a super centurian (and active writer to this day) He once blogged about racism in the U.S. and how slavery ended up affecting him in his youth in everyday routines like buying a bus ticket! God bless, Kareem

Sue Lange

Graham, Just for your info, my town -- Reading, PA -- has an African-American museum housed at one of the stops on the underground railroad. The building is complete with a crawlspace used to hide refugees. Here's the website with info: http://www.cpaam.net Let me know if you want a hookup with this group; I've worked with them in the past. They're very congenial.

Graham Dodd

Sue, great info. Website looks excellent. I will likely take up your hook up offer. I will message you when I need it. Many thanks.

Sue Lange

V. cool.

Raymond J. Negron

How badly do you want to tell your story? if it wakes you up at night, do it! Whatever you interpret will be siphoned through you. You are the interpreter to that experience, then collaborate with someone who knows more than you. Bam!

Sonibel Rae

I personally think it is important for white writers to tell diverse stories. Sometimes even in 2016 I watch a film and I find myself "how come absolutely everyone is white?". So, yeah I do yearn for white writers to step out of the comfort zone and try but I also think before people can take the bold step of stepping outside of their own personal lived experiences you have to look inwardly a lot. By this, I mean the fact that we live in a male dominated white supremacist society, which can be seen by looking at almost any institution, including media. I have to fight my own internalised misogyny and racism every day and I have spent years unlearning a lot of things that had been taught to me my entire life. Basically, I think you need to do research, rigorous research. I think you should have a black person look at the script, preferably one who is engaged in the present racism today, because asking someone who doesn't believe in political correctness will not help much. Often times we write things when we are privileged and do not understand errors or offensive things we have said. I as a straight woman have to watch carefully how I write my LGBT characters in my scripts. However I would really study your motives before writing. I often feel stories tied heavily with racism would better be handled by someone who has had to feel the burn of racism, specifically anti-black racism, in their lives. I often feel like white writers exploit black suffering when they engage in such scripts heavily. I feel like yes, include more diversity in your work, but when dealing with such hot topic issues why not let the I'm sure equally as talented, but not as widely celebrated minority writer take the lead? That's my two cents and I wish you all the luck.

Joseph Chastain

I've cowritten with a writer who is half white/half black writer a story about immigration. I don't think the ethnicities of the writer matter. A story is a story, a character is a character. As long as you have a unique viewpoint and your characters aren't stereotypes it's going to work. Avoid the "white savior" idea too.

Graham Dodd

The comments roll in and they are of many shades of the topic. In short, some say you can, some say you can't. Some say you need direct experience, some say you don't. In amongst the comments are links and tips which are really useful. My story out line is a bit of a jigsaw and you my dear colleagues are supplying the pieces. Thanks to your input I an re-evaluating avenues which the story could or shouldn't go down. You've helped me rip out certain ideas and plant others. Thank you all

Joseph Chastain

Peter: Read this article: http://www.fergusbordewich.com/blog/?p=13 it talks about the modern significance of the underground railroad, not just on black families, but on ALL Americans and ALL politics in America and by extension the world.

Joseph Chastain

Does a writer have to be gay to write about homosexual characters? Or straight to write about straight ones? Can a man write a female protagonist? Can a female write a male one? Can a Jew write a Christian one? Can a Japanese man write about one from Sicily? Of course. A writer WRITES. As long as they research the subject they can write about it. I know I've said a lot on the subject, but I'm adamant about it. As long as it's not offensive WRITE IT.

Joseph Chastain

I don't think it's hyperbole at all. The articles of confederation were thought to be a passing thing once the constitution was signed, but they wee used as an excuse for the South to Secede. They are partially used as a model for the EU today . As for the UR, there are many people who wouldn't have been born if not for it, maybe even thousands of people, so in that way it effects families to this day. The south certainly is a different place for it, as it helped the south's growing animosity to the North and made a jump to the aggression on both sides. The fugitive slave law wouldn't have happened without the UR and that was one of the major reasons the North was so upset at the South, and fueled abolitionist fire. The civil war lead to not just the freeing of the slaves, but poverty in the south and things like Jim Crow, the founding of the KKK and reconstruction Those things may not have happened a fast as they did if not for the Fugitive Slave act, one of the major things that lead to the forming of the Republican Party in fact, which as you know is still one of the two major parties. Would all this have happened with out the UR? Probably, although I think things were sped up by it. There were of course slaves that escaped in other ways, but the UR was a big influence and continues to be.

Linda Perkins

Graham, your topic isn't only great but fascinating as well. Screenwriters are artist...which cannot and should not be contained in a box of one specific brand/topic <-- where's the artistry in that? There will always be critics. Go for it and I believe you'll enjoy the journey.

Graham Dodd

Linda, thank you for your input. The original was do you need to be of a certain hue to write about like hued characters? The majority opinion would appear to be no. As writers we give our characters form and shape, we put words in their mouths and we must certainly avoid negative stereotypes of any sort. That isn't to say we can't write an evil black / white/ yellow/ brown /pink/ lilac stripped character. What we must not do is portray this 'person' as representative of their race. A bad person is a bad person, a good person is a good person People shouldn't be defined by their skin and we writers should all have an understating of what lies under the skin, what dives and motivates ALL human beings. Our basic human desires are common to all. A countryman of mine, died a while back but had great insight, put it this way:- I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? Please feel free to change Jew and Christian to whatever race/religion you like. Shakespeare wasn't a Jew but he was able to encapsulate the human condition in those few lines. When I write about people I keep those few lines on mind.

Graham Dodd

Regina, very interesting article. One of the downfalls (in my opinion) of tv (in the us and here) is a second, third fourth etc series. The writers can't just sat bam there it is in a nutshell, that's the way it was. They are forced to distort history to keep ratings on the boil.

Hans Nielsen

I have written and published a short story called In Search of the Underground Railroad. The story is based on my having grown up at a church in rural Maryland that was once part of the famed RR. The story is told through the eyes of two male grade school students and their moonshiner uncle. The story is available at Smashwords, https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/496885 or you go to my profile here at Stage 32 and download the screenplay version. The story takes the viewpoint that the RR could not have successfully functioned without the cooperation of many white people. Good luck with your project and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Mark S. Jenkins

I have to agree with Linda Perkins. As creative people we (IMHO) should let the creative process flow and do its thing. When one "worries" about others opinions it gets in the way. I found myself writing my first screenplay with mostly black characters... and I am a super white dude. It is just what came out of me. I don't even know why, but my African (truly from Africa friends) all really liked the script, and a well known African Director is thinking about doing it. (I have it posted here) So, I would say just write your story and get it out of you. It's the least you can do for those characters you envision.

Sonibel Rae

Graham, I understand that most responses on this thread have encouraged you to do as you please regardless but I urge you to look at the ethnicities of the people who do mostly share this opinion. Many of them are white and while they may all be good writers they are not the people who are hurt by racism, who are so used to white people co-opting black narratives for themselves. I honestly don't think asking a race based question and then going forward only on the opinions of those who don't have to suffer the repercussions of racism, in this case anti-black racism, and erasure (behind the screen) makes much sense. But you're an adult so you may do what you see fit. I just think it is ill advised.

Kentrell Liddell

Graham, since at least one of your main characters is an African American female physician, I might be able to offer you some perspective, as I am a family medicine residency-trained one. I enjoyed reading this thread, and I wish you well with your project. Please feel free to contact me as needed.

Erik Grossman

A middle-aged white man and a white woman co-wrote STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. You're fine.

Joseph Chastain

Sonibel--As someone who is multi ethnic (White, Native American, Asian and Jewish) i resent the remark that white people don't "get hurt by racism" I understand your point of view that a white person may not deal with anti-black racism, but ALL people have dealt with racism of some kind in their life at some time or another. I think it's rather insulting that someone who wants to deal with your problems and make them more visible to society at large should be told that they should have second thoughts just based on their race, and a person shouldn't be able to voice their opinion on a subject like this because they are white. If a Christian or Buddhist writer wanted to write a holocaust or Masada drama I'd be all for it, as long as it wasn't something that made light of the issue and was handled in a mature matter. I'm not one of those people that screams reverse racism or that screams for society to be color blind, but a person can have an opinion on a question about race regardless of their color. And to say that a white person hasn't been hurt by racism in naive. I've never met anyone that hasn't been discriminated against because of the color of their skin, regardless of their ethnicity.

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

It is unfortunate that many people subscribe to the notion that us well-meaning Caucasians may be able to discuss racism; but could never really convey it in an artistic way. And that we're "co-opting black narratives" for ourselves. As a young boy walking to school, I was often taunted for my religion and called names “dirty Jew” and “kike”. There were also several occasions where I engaged in fist fights because of relentless harassment. In my adult years, I’ve often heard people make anti-Semitic remarks, jokes and spew outright hatred against Jewish people. In fact, Jews are the most prolific victims of religious hate crimes committed in the United States. Therefore, at an early age, I learned to develop a thick, white skin. I’ve also fought against white racism, standing in front of my African American neighbors, who were being assaulted by neo Nazi skinheads brandishing automatic weapons. So in spite of our skin colors, let’s make allowances for the reality that we’ve all lived unique lives; and bring this individuality to both the creative process and the discussion of it. To do otherwise, is rather insensitive to those of us who have experienced prejudice first hand and have fought against it. I’ve risked facing the barrel of a loaded gun for my beliefs; so I think that provides me with a sufficient view of ignorance and hatred.

Dawn Murrell

I would be very excited to see and read your work Graham. I love Philip Hardy's work involving African-American culture that he kindly shared with me and I appreciate QT's perspective in Django Unchained ( he is too violent for my taste, that has nothing to do with him being white). I myself as a black woman, am very impressed when I see white writers researching and writing about other cultures. It gives the community new work and new perspective which is what we need right now. Just like someone else said earlier, be careful to stay away from stereotypes, (unless you are shattering them) and feel free to ask "How would a black person say this? How would a "modern black family" feel about that? Does it feel, sound or look authentic to you? If you are on the fence, get a second opinion and don't be afraid of getting total honesty to your questions. Good luck!

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

Dawn: Thank your for the kind words and support. It is much appreciated.

Graham Dodd

If I was going to comment on Sonibel's post then it would be much along Bill's lines. No one has the monopoly on being a target for racism. No matter what race you are someone in your race will slag off someone of another race. Is there one race on the planet who can hold their hands up and say 'no one in our race has ever ever made a comment on racial grounds about another member of another race.? Please, step forward. Remember, Jesus said 'let he who is without sin amongst you cast the first stone." For personal racism, back in the 90s in Rumania, while following the Dracula trail I was accosted in a hotel bar by a drunken Swedish male, blonde hair blue eyes etc, who proceeded to tell me that the English were a weak and insignificant race and that his Viking ancestors plundered and invaded England because we were rubbish. I happened to ask him where Sweden was more recently when millions from the West, the US, Africa, India and the Pacific gave their lives fighting Hitler and the Japanese.? Well, things got really interesting then! Sorry, my point is every race contains racists. And as has been pointed out, slavery exists today and some nationals even hold there own people in bondage which I guess is non racist slavery. I'm a bit sorry my original question has moved slightly off centre. It's still the same. Can a writer write about races other than his/her own?

Hans Nielsen

One other thought here; and that it is important to note that common opinion has the final terminus of the Underground RR being Canada. Technically, that is not correct because Canada did not become a country until 1865, the year The Civil War ended. When the RR was running, the place we know call Canada was a British Territory and the British refused to return runaway slaves. Still, there was still some safety in relocating to a Northern industrial center, but the law did allow for escaped slaves in the North to be legally returned to their former home in the South.

Raven Burnes

As far as Tarantino goes, his lack of humility regarding the subject of black culture is what (in my opinion) trips him up. Many of his movies are offensive to me, The Hateful Eight being the worst of the bunch. That being said, I have no problem with someone of any race writing about any other race. However, it must be understood that if you are of the dominant culture, you do not know as much as you think you do about minorities. Not unless you are intimately connected through family or friendship with large numbers of a particular minority group. But that's okay. All you have to do is continue to write and do your research, but solicit feedback from a few different members of that racial group. This will help you fill in the blanks and retain a balanced perspective. Keep writing what you're passionate about and good luck!! :)

Graham Dodd

Raven, thank you for your input on this subject, very much appreciated. I am not a fan of all QTs work. His was just the example that triggered this debate. I think your most salient point is 'research'. As others above have pointed out, if we limit our writing to personal experience all writers are going to be very limited. And that (lack of) understanding of groups and cultures must go both ways.ie if you are of a minority group, do you know as much as you think you do about majorities? And what is a minority? In the UK we have a minority Asian population but if I went to say, India, to work I would be in a the reverse minority culture group. Hope you see what I'm trying to say? Anyway, I don't disagree with you overall, and there are some 'minority' (I hate pigeonholing people) writers who have kindly offered me support and advice in the areas I do have persona experience of. Thanks again.

Graham Dodd

Thanks Jim, ps that should read 'areas I do not have personal experience of', and it's great that people on this site have been very supportive and given me many good links, leads and advice. As I've said to others here, my view of American culture comes through the lens of Hollywood and network TV series, so not really 'true America'. Love Devon, used to holiday there a lot.

Haile Stern

Graham, I appreciate your courage and your sensitivity. I believe you should write anything and everything you're passionate about- it will shine through in your work. Since I haven't been to England, if I were to write about life there, I would have someone like you check my "voice" for authenticity. So, I suggest you do the same with both white and black Americans who know a little about the culture and writing. I also have women friends who give me feedback for my female characters, and it helps a lot.

Phillip "The Scribe Who Cares'" Hardy

I rather like Mister Corey's DBT idea.

Dawn Murrell

Mr. Corey, If there was a blind test experiment read like your example, I believe I would only see and hear the particular voice of the writer and not their race. The way the writer illustrates the cultural subject matter however, will determine the authenticity of the voice. If the "black viewpoint" was written by a white person about a certain subject matter of race that I feel needs to be experienced to be fully understood, I might be able to tell who wrote it because the voice could possibly seem like a third person point of view. Without getting angry or saying that the person was wrong or racist, I would want to learn more about the person's perspective on the subject. There is a TV show called "Blackish" that is about a modern African American successful family and their experiences in the home and the workplace. That show pokes fun at the "black viewpoint" and the stereotypes that black people experience so in that case your statement about the unique viewpoints of certain subject matter is true. I would love to see how many writers on that show are black and how many are white. There is also an animated tv show called The Boondocks that has a very clear African American point of view about African American life. If the people who wrote those shows did not know detailed experiences about that life, the voices would not seem real. Like Raven said, if the writer is humble enough to learn about and connect to the culture through friends, family, direct ties of experiences and point of view first hand, that creates a very accurate voice, which in turn cannot be seen as black or white or any other race or group to identify. I whole heartedly agree that if you did not know the race of the writer and there was a test of guessing who wrote what, good writing would be color blind.

Hans Nielsen

Actually, the Underground RR involved a lot of white people. The benefactors were African-American slaves, but the network was pre-dominantly abolitionists and sympathetic white landowners. Seems to me this subject matter would yield itself well to cross-cultural examination.

Craig D Griffiths

Would we stop a black writer writing about white people? I couldn't write about a culture I don't understand. But that has nothing to do with my skin.

Richard Buzzell

I believe that every character in a movie should have a matching writer to write the parts for each character. Exemptions only for children under 12 months of age.

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