guatemalan woman

crazypaperpoodle  asked:

re: non-POC writing POC characters -- as a white writer, I find myself reluctant to include any deep POC characters because in my head I hear protest saying I Did It Wrong, that I'm assuming, that I Just Don't Know, and that has been said by POC to non-POC creatives. The implication is that only POC can write POC characters, and this seems to be a contradiction while at the same time a reality. How to go about it? I'm looking for suggestions.

This is a great question and one I get frequently after talks. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer it here. Let’s do this.

Essentially, I see two ways to write people of color:

1. Intentionally. These are the type of characters I think you’re talking about, the ones you’re afraid of writing disrespectfully. Characters whose very essence is tied to their racial identity. Where race plays a big role in the story. Is your character a Vietnamese woman who has decided to move to Ohio where she grapples with questions of selfhood and culture? Yup, intentional. 

2. Unintentionally. This is when you just write a character whose race isn’t specified. Did you write about a rich celebrity dentist who is having a mid-life crisis? Well that could be a person of any race. In this case, “writing POC” has more to do with casting POC in roles where race isn’t specified.

So when you’re intentionally writing POC characters the best thing to do is listen. Yup, the key to being an ally is the key to being an artist, too. Always do your research. A ton of research. And research in this sense often means collaboration. Make sure that as you write this character you are constantly talking to people who have more insight about this character than you do. Incorporate their ideas, their experiences. Invite them to shape this character with you so much that they are either credited as a co-writer or consultant. A great example of a white dude intentionally writing a POC character is Sean Baker who wrote and directed Tangerine, a film that follows two black trans women sex workers in Los Angeles. Here is a great interview with him and the film’s star Mya Taylor talking about how he incorporated Mya’s experiences throughout the filmmaking process. The result: incredibly nuanced, three dimensional characters that are neither disrespectful nor rooted in stereotype.

When you’re unintentionally writing POC characters, this is much easier: don’t cast white people by default in stories that aren’t about race. One more time for emphasis: don’t cast white people by default in stories that aren’t about race. This is one of the biggest points I make through Every Single Word. We’re so used to seeing POC play POC only when the story is about race (and also white people playing POC; looking at you Gods of Egypt etc.) and so rarely see POC playing main characters whose race isn’t specified. Also, trust that the actor you cast will infuse nuance into the role. Let’s go back to that example from before: the rich celebrity dentist with a mid-life crisis. Let’s say you cast a Guatemalan woman as the dentist. Trust that she will bring her humanity to the part. And, like an outfit, tailor it to her. Listen to her experiences and figure out if her lines and actions sound right to both her and you. In 2014 when Shonda Rhimes was criticized for writing too many gay scenes, like a boss, she tweeted back “There are no GAY scenes. There are scenes with people in them.” 

So, crazypapernoodle, I challenge you to write scenes with people in them. Go forward and write people of color into your work. If you choose to write characters who are specifically people of color then do your work to listen to real people who are like your character. The end result will be nuanced and honest. And if you’re just writing characters who are human, I challenge you to write complex, wonderful, vibrant humans. And, when it comes time, don’t cast white people by default.