I’M MAD at the responsibility (pt 1)

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I’m Mad! I’m mad at you and you and you and especially, more than anybody else, I’m mad at me because I’m having a hard time letting the noise go.

In the last couple of weeks I haven’t wanted to be a screenwriter. Ironically, it’s because of all the talk of underrepresentation of women and women of color in the entertainment industry.

We… and this is part of the problem, we are thought of as a we. We are expected to write certain things. We are expected to deal with our issues and yours too.

Unlike a man, when I tell a story of a human being I am supposed to represent all human beings in a fair and equal manner. Well guess what? Fair and equal is boring. Fair and equal is not the human story, is not anyone’s human story.

In one of my thrillers, the woman starts out weak and adrift because she wants to turn her life over to any man, even if he’s an asshole. This is the kind of woman I want to slap in the face in real life but in the story she has to start there to grow. But, as a woman, I am forced to think  what it means that people see this squishy limp noodle as a representation of women. Am I harming women by acknowledging those like her exist?

When I began my western I spent days trying to force women into the narrative. It’s based on a true story and if you’ve ever researched the 1870s the mentions of women that aren’t simply listed as the wife are a thousand to one. I had to travel to Arkansas to purchase a 713 page out of print book to find a single page of a woman who was not mentioned as someone’s wife or daughter. History represents us little more than walking uteri, so how do we balance that with what true life was? I also have to worry that I haven’t been able to find a voice in this story because there is no white hero. Can I make a movie with a black main character without a white hero? Outside of blaxploitation films it has never been done before. I get nervous and fight with myself over the truth of it. The only thing I should have to fight with are that there are no heroes in this story at all, there are no solutions either. It’s only a man struggling with who he is and how that fits into the world around him. In a western that should be enough. But I am a black woman writing this so will people except that it’s enough from me?

Every time I choose not to make a main or supporting character black or a woman I wonder if I am failing my people. I switched from prose to screenwriting because I was an actor searching for parts. In an interview, John Leguizamo said as a person of color if you have the ability to write it is your power, your way to break in. He did it, Whoopi Goldberg did it, and so could I. When I became disabled and was no longer able to act the stories I wanted to tell were so much bigger than movies I could star in. The color, weight, sex, of the person depended on the history they needed to be in this spot on this day.

I get mad that I’m a stereotypical woman writer who does not do giant stories where the goal is to blow up as much stuff as possible. I love those movies but I’m no good at writing them.

How do you get more women in the business? Stop telling them why we need them in the business. Forcing us to be the hopes and dreams of billions of people is too much.  I can’t take care of everyone else, I’m too busy trying to take care of myself.

Maybe all this talk of more women is as simple as considering us for a project when you think the writer being a woman, or black, or disabled, is not needed. As writers, we are already asked to deliver a story that will speak to the human race. Even though we may choose to, we shouldn’t have to speak for the subset of millions of people we belong to as well. Consider us because we are writers and we have stories tell and not because you think you know what those stories are.

5 responses »

  1. Brilliant. Yes. This.

    I write action/adventure/scifi/fantasy. I’ve started putting my initials on scripts rather than my full name. I don’t want a misconception right off the bat that ‘oh, it’s a woman. They can’t write this subject.’

    And what’s happened? An action feature script got to the finals of a contest and a scifi feature is currently in the semis of another.

    I might not yet be good enough to catch the attention of someone who will give a newbie female writer a chance, but I must not be terrible if I can get that far in a few contests!

    • For my western I put down my name as Van Knight after I was in a westerns panel at AFF. Panelists could only talk about guys liking westerns despite the audience being half female.

      • It’s sad we have to do that. Or think we have to.

        ‘Frozen’. Over 1 billion at the box office. Written by a woman.

        ‘Hunger Games.’ Again. HUGE box office. Written by a woman.

        ‘Twilight.’ ‘Harry Potter’. Same.

        If only the money men would give women more chances. Instead of investing in more – remakes.

  2. It’s funny that turn-of-the-century/western stuff references women so rarely, as it was fairly easy for me (on a brief google search, literally years ago) to find myriad references to female sheriffs during that time. I imagine that may be more scarce when searching for minority references (ahhhh, white history), but probably ends up being about the same amount, percentage-wise, as far as “minorities/women who had power in the west,” just by virtue of the fact that there weren’t that many PEOPLE out west – so (at least in early days) whoever had a provable skill was essentially placed in whatever position they could fill. Would it be more RARE for a woman to have power? Sure. But not remotely “difficult” to find references to those who did (at the least, no more difficult than finding references to female pirates or soldiers, many of whom are easily locate-able).

    • I was looking at a specific time in a specific area. I researched it thoroughly. It was almost impossible to find women that weren’t mentioned as someone’s wife or daughter. Before I found the clerk, Belle Starr was the only one who would be mentioned before her husband. Unfortunately, upon researching her story it begins with her husband.
      I’m not sure if you understand that research was not the point of the post. If researching important women in the entire history of the west was my goal I probably would have found many of the same things you did. Open a search parameter wide enough and you’ll find someone who fits.

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