“You are so fun! We just don’t know where to put you.”
“Is there any chance you can act ‘more black?’”
“You won’t find many roles for your type, you need to change your image.”
These are words that I hear all the time. Growing up as a “suburbanized” African-American educated female, I was often told that I didn’t fit into the black community or the white community, but through the years I grew in confidence and learned to be okay with being myself. I took that confidence out to LA ready to take on the world as an actress. But I found that the “city of stars” still operates within a specific brand of stereotypes.
To its credit, Hollywood is changing, but very slowly. I daily find myself struggling to find roles that will fit my brand and type of acting. More than once I’ve heard that my essence is great, but I’m looking at several years before Hollywood accepts the type of character I have to offer. Many times people don’t know what to do with me, so I decided to show them. I decided to write my seat at the table. I am currently doing that through a web series.
The phrase “writing my seat at the table” is based off of Langston Hughes’ poem, “I Too.” Which speaks of the perseverance and patience it takes to sing your song, which is distinctly American, but wait to be acknowledged and invited to the table. I find that Hollywood is often the same way. They (now) recognize that minorities are “singing the song” of America, but they are unsure how they fit into their “table” of entertainment. Bold writers like Issa Rae, Mindy Kaling, and Aziz Ansari have paved the way and written some seats, but often Hollywood needs reminders of what minorities can do.
I have found that writing a seat at the table requires three things:
1. Write from experience. Writing from a different perspective can be fun, but it is often the perspective we are most familiar with that is the most compelling. When the author is deeply intimate with their story, it allows the audience to connect on a deeper level as well. Screenwriters Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani loosely used their own personal experience to write The Big Sick, allowing them to create a movie that moved audiences through laughter, while discussing important topics.
2. Write to encourage or educate, not to condemn. When writing from a minority perspective, it can be easy to accuse or criticize, but it is often grace and kindness that provide the most profound lesson. The television show Black-ish does a great job of discussing topics that are touchy subjects, but presenting them in a way that allows the audience to learn and be encouraged to do better, without making non-minorities feel like a terrible person.
3. Write confidently. The word minority implies difficulty in relateability. But, one of the beautiful things about being human is that there are some fundamental truths that ring true regardless of skin color or culture. It is finding those truths and believing that your story is relateable that increases its accessibility. One of the reasons that Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians did so well (other than being culturally groundbreaking films), is that their underlying stories of interpersonal struggles and fighting for love are true no matter what who you are or what culture you come from.
Throughout this time of writing and producing my web series, it has been encouraging to see the ways in which the story relates to people across a broad spectrum. On a grassroots level, Hollywood is starved for stories told from a non-stereotypical perspective. As the demand for this type of writing grows, more and more minorities will find they have a chance to share their story. By why wait until then? Start by writing your seat at the table now.
About the author
Raychel is an actress, writer, and producer who also moonlights as a college professor. She enjoys Broadway musicals, Harry Potter, and superhero movies. Raychel is currently in the middle of crowdfunding for her web series Confessions From the Friendzone, which is a romantic comedy that promotes diversity and women in film. Check it out at: www.seedandspark.com/fund/CFTFZ
Also, connect with Raychel on social media @raychelmckelvy