Why Race Doesn’t Really Matter When Writing Scripts: Scriptnotes

On Tuesday, March 14th, 2017, Scriptnotes hosts John August and Craig Mazin tackle viewer questions and answer them to the best of their ability. Ranging in a variety of questions in regards to screenwriting, this podcast was generally focused on writing credits, the importance of an agent, and, what caught the eye the most, the portrayal of race and history in screenplays.

Several questions dealt with the issue. The first in the episode came from a Los Angeles viewer who asked: “I try to mindful of representation when describing characters in terms of race; however, in my current project, the characters races don’t play any significant role in the plot or interactions with other characters. They could be played by an actor of any color despite how I’ve described them. Is it better to describe the character in colorblind terms… or with racial implications?”

Upon answering this question, both hosts came up with similar answers, John noted that there will always be two competing ways of thinking – if the other characters are diverse, then it allows the reader to think of the main character as diverse and that a choice is a choice and that the writer made that specific choice for a reason or that it ultimately doesn’t matter (August and Mazin 2017). While Craig suggested making a list of people who could possibly fit the role as sometimes “it’s really more about age or gravitas and other things that are just more important than skin color. So I think it’s fair for you, especially if you’re writing a spec script, to include – here are some general ideas of who I was thinking when I doing this…” (August and Mazin 2017).

Later, Craig Mazin made an excellent point that is extremely important in writing scripts. “I think sometimes what ends up happening is people start to get nervous, and it’s white people that are getting nervous, let’s be clear about this, white writers get nervous (not all of them), but some of them about seeming racist or falling into some kind of trap, and so they overthink and they start to suddenly pepper the script with all of these racial descriptions to say ‘look at me, look at me, I’m not default white’ which is fine except that, you’re actually doing somewhat artificial at times” (August and Mazin 2017).

The most artificial thing a screenwriter can do, in my opinion, is to not be honest with yourself and to make a world inclusive for inclusivity’s sake. In other words, it is not progressive to have the television commercial with every single race on the planet represented because you want to be seen as a person who is inclusive. If this occurs, it may likely be seen as the opposite, that you are pandering to a specific group just to obtain a “non-racist card” as it were.

The problem that exists in screenwriting is that people are sometimes oversensitive when it comes to characters and their race. Is it nice to have people who are diverse, of course it is, but as Mazin points out “It doesn’t really matter” (August and Mazin 2017). This is not a Social Justice Course. It’s screenwriting and filmmaking. Let’s stop with the extreme politics and just write and make movies without the fear of being called a racist. It’s not always about race. It’s mostly about character and characters.


Work Cited

August, John, and Craig Mazin. “Scriptnotes: 292 – Question Time.” Audio blog post. Scriptnotes. N.p., 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

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