Photo by Lukáš Dlutko from Pexels

Race, culture, ethnicity is tricky these days. I am a person, have a family and work in a field where it is relentlessly present. I'm a fellow at the Full Spectrum Features Producing Lab, and one of the conversations we had yesterday sparked the idea for this post. Since things came to a head last year with Black Lives Matter, I have been considering what my viewpoint is on identity as it's represented in TV and movies.

Here are my thoughts about race, culture, and ethnic representation in narrative, visual content:

  1. We don't need to directly address what it's like for someone to be {identity}. I'm not saying we shouldn't. I'm just saying we don't need to do it.

  2. Narrative content, by definition, should focus on story. The extent to which a character's identity impacts the story is the extent to which the people watching need to understand their background.

  3. As an actor / writer / director / producer, you need to understand a character's identity and how their heritage influences their actions deeper than anyone else.

  4. Unless the story is about what it's like to be the only person different in a group of people, or touches on that theme, don't have only one character of a different background. This is called tokenism. It looks like you're throwing in a character for the sake of checking some kind of diversity box. It also isolates your character. Who can they talk with in the story who can relate to them? I think someday our society will get to the point where we are more open-minded about people having a wide mix of friends from different backgrounds without explanation, but for today, it is an issue.

  5. If you haven't lived a particular experience, why do you want to write / direct / produce a story about that experience? How do you personally relate to it? These questions are asked not because they're quite common on all the grant and contest and lab applications. They're asked to measure authenticity. If an artist approaches the work from a place of authenticity, that work has a better chance of ringing true and connecting to the people who watch it.

  6. If you haven't lived a particular experience, check the story with others who have. Listen to them.

  7. Introspect. Analyze relationships. Examine groups. These are the fundamental backbones to human emotional existence and ultimately the essence of every story.


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