“I think we need to show all aspects of black lives. I love Moonlight. I love Hidden Figures, but I also want to see some people who are having fun.”
—Tracy Oliver, screenwriter of Girls Trip and Barbershop: The Next Cut
I hope I don’t get vilified for saying this, but if so, fuck it, this is just how I feel.
And I gotta say, I’m there with you, Tracy. I agree with you. I, too, love Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and all those types of films, and I think they are important stories that need to be told.
But I’m not the one to tell them.
Hell, I don’t know that I can tell them. I like to write about other Black experiences. Call it superficial or whatever, but that’s what moves me.
When I was in college, a common question Black folks would ask me upon finding out I was a film major was, “Are you gonna make hood movies?” And at the time — remember, I am old — that’s pretty much what was coming out, what represented us on-screen. We were in the wake of acclaimed dramas such as Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society, but it then seemed that every movie depicting Black life had to be some hood survival tale, and although that’s a world with which I am very familiar and I could very well tell that type of story, I didn’t want to.
I knew that there were more stories about us that could be told. Hell, even Spike Lee went the “hood” route with Clockers — although I do respect the fact that he took was what essentially a novel about a white cop and adapted it into the story of Strike, a low-level drug dealer. (Also, I do not in any way mean to slight Spike or his work. He is one of my biggest influences, and he showed me that there was more to Black film than drug dealers, pimps, hoes, gangstas, and stereotypical “ghetto” folk.)
There have been discussions on how the endings to "Get Out" and Mudbound" being hopeful are less realistic. One day we are going to discuss the appetite of American moviegoers in needing to see broken and dead Black bodies on screen. Noted and seent.
— ReBecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC) December 5, 2017
And the above tweet from film writer ReBecca Theodore, which makes mention of “the appetite of American moviegoers in needing to see broken and dead Black bodies on screen,” is something else that I totally feel. That’s the shit I cannot do. I just cannot write about Black people’s abject pain and misery — certainly not for what’s supposed to be entertainment.
Now, writing a story in which violence and suffering is part and parcel of its genre is one thing: Think action, or even horror, for instance. My screenplay Side Chick is a thriller, and utilizes the genre’s conventions. But Side Chick isn’t specifically focused on the unique suffering of Black people; the characters could be Latinx or even white and it’d still be essentially the same story.
What I’m talking about are these stories in which Black characters endure a seemingly endless amount of suffering and torment, only to succumb to it all in the end. Theodore’s tweet was a reaction to the “negative” responses films such as Get Out and Mudbound have gotten for having (relatively) happy, or hopeful, endings. (Note: I have not yet seen Mudbound, but knowing that it’s not the two-hour slog into despair I thought it was will go a long way toward changing that.)
Even if I’m writing a thriller or horror story, there will likely be a hopeful ending. I’m not trying to satisfy the perverse fascination of those seeking entertainment from the misery of Black folks.
So much respect to your slave dramas and bleak hood tales. But that’s not me. I want to show and celebrate #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy. I wanna write genre stuff. I wanna write Nancy Meyers-esque romantic comedies. That’s where I wanna see Black people.
Not always oppressed, not always in pain, not always suffering.
But having fun, living life, and always — always — hopeful.