“And of course, almost everybody is black.”
This is an excerpt from the script for Barry Jenkins’ movie Moonlight. I read the it last semester and made the leap to enroll in Screenwriting I. It’s part of my determination not only to make films, but to write them myself. Often, the best stories are specific ones. The specificity of a reference or knowing you’re part of a target demographic, especially when you’re so often disregarded, feels great. Barry Jenkins’ script also has—circled by me in black gel pen—references to Black American cultural staples like In Living Color. The script is written like a novel and, in a sense, broke down my initial apprehension about screenwriting. It’s accessible. I can do it, too. However, it’ll take hard work and patience before I can write that well, and I welcome that.
Last week’s class reminded me why I need to write. We did a mock version of a writer’s room. My friend Brianna was chosen as a character. Brianna is a Black woman, about 5’5” thin. The scenarios surrounding her character trying to get an education included:
Dirty and disorganized, Brianna is a waitress by day. Struggling to get her life together so that she can be to night class on time.
Which turned into…
Brianna is behind on her student loan payments, she has no family, relying only on herself. She doubts she’ll be able to go to school because she spend her days working. (Not so bad, but meh.)
Which ended up as…
Brianna’s mom doesn’t allow her to study at home, berating her and telling her school is stupid and of little importance. Instead, she tells her to seek a second job. (This sounds like Precious to me, so not original!)
The class descended into a rabbit hole of shitty scenarios and it made me realize the importance of having a voice in the room to reel people in. Yes, that can be tiring, but it needed to be done. I challenged by classmate on his assumption she’d have no family and if she did they wouldn’t value education. He kind of deflected and brushed it off like, “Isn’t this how those stories tend to go?” I thought about stories and who gets to tell them, what cliché and stereotypes many writers rely on. It’s lazy.
I know at my core, I love to tell stories. I’m happy this semester allows me to actually study other forms of storytelling. Right now, I’m making mini docs. I’m also taking an acting class so that I can cast myself in things. Along with this screenwriting class, it’s is an interesting way to deconstruct films. I’m excited about the possibilities and feeling that, to some extent, I’m making it happen! ♦