It’s Funny Cause it’s …

a) old

b) tired

c) an overused trope

d) lazy writing

e) umm…true?

Included in my work writing for and working in film and television, I often get the chance to do coverage. For the two people who aren’t my industry friends reading this blog, coverage is what happens when a non-executive type like myself reads a script for an executive type and writes a synopsis and feedback on the quality of the script. This is often a script’s first step toward not being made and provides writers like myself with valuable info.

Do enough coverage and you have a head’s up on what’s being submitted so you can either jump on a good bandwagon or avoid a tired subject. Also, you get a by proxy education as you read what does and does not work. What does work, apparently, because I’ve read it about a million times in the 5 years I’ve been doing this is one simple fact:

RBP are sassy, mean and HILARIOUS!

I just read a script and since I’ll probably be sued for saying who it was for or what the script was or who the writer was, I’ll just say this and hope that s/he is reading.

One of the characters was described thusly: “SHAKWANDA, a sassy African American receptionist…” and then she went on to have every line be “oh, nuh uh!” “I do NOT need this today,” “you best leave me alone fo’ I cut you,” etc. This would be unremarkable except that with the exception of one glorious family script that for the same above reasons, I cannot name, every script with a black character that I end up readingĀ  is pretty much written this way.

There is some variation, of course. Sometimes the RBP in question is an athlete, sometimes an oversexed teen. But the character is always the same. They are not the hero, they are not the love interest, their lines haughtily punctuate the ends of scenes and their character arc only bends them from totally sassy, to slightly less sassy.

Needless to say, I am soooo over this.

I mean, c’mon. Just like I said in my open letter to Oprah, I have worked waaaaayyyy too hard for the only thing I need to be able to avoid are an accent and an attitude. I was born not talking that way. I would need the best accent coaches ever to figure out how to say grrrrl. And those years of ballet did not teach me to roll my neck. So help me keep my game up by keeping up yours.

Click here for more on an Oreo’s experience at the movies.

And here for an exec’s views on the Oreo experience.

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5 comments

  1. The Book of Eli
    I Am Legend
    Seven Pounds
    Crash
    Law Abiding Citizen
    Traitor

    Well pretty much all the newer movies Will Smith acts in

    Several of Jamie Foxx’s movies well not all of them but like Law Abiding Citizen and The Soloist

    And I think Tyler Perry’s movies while they some of the characters fit the bill for that typecast not all of them are portrayed that way it’s a pretty good mixture.

    Off the top of my head, those are a few movies I’ve seen recently where black people weren’t typecast into the role you’re describing

    I could probably find more references for you if I took the time but I’m sure that you can write a successful script without what you’re describing, I mean, it’s clearly been done. So don’t feel too discouraged. =)

    1. Hmm, considering 2-3 “big” movies are released most weekends, that puts Hollywood’s output at 100-150 or so movies a year.

      Good thing that 1 or 2 of those movies per year bucks the trend. That means that only 99% of the films reinforce stereotypes.

      And yeah, “we” have Will Smith, and Halle and sometimes Morgan and Denzel. So, four actors up against the hundreds of non-minority actors who get to play a range of roles in films.

  2. In my little part of the internet we’re having our own discussion(s) about this sort of stereotyping (well, and worse). Lots of long posts and comments about intent (and how it doesn’t matter if you’ve hurt someone anyway), where this garbage comes from (everywhere!), how to see characters/people as actual people (not just props/background for your white main characters *sigh*). It’s good that people are talking and pointing out the fail.

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