When it comes to the discussion of diversity which I find these days has been turning more into an argument as many refuse to see or discover why so many of the non-majority are bringing up the discussion consistently and passionately.
During this discussion and honestly on my journey through writing over the years even as a highschool student, I heard the expression: “write what you know.”
In June 2016 Tony’s actor round table discussed diversity. This was very interesting to watch, I highly recommend watching it. Zachary Levi, concludes saying this:
If you want to change the game and the roles that are available, it has to start with the writing. And as we all know, or at least as writers always tell us, you write what you know. So if we’re going to change the root in order to have a much better tree that’s flourishing, you’ve got to start with the writing, otherwise those roles will never come.
There is a lot wrong with his statement as there are so many other factors, including the fact your film must be picked up executives. Let’s be real, there are many writers who have written great scripts that never got created. “The change,” he speaks of has to be more than starting at writing, however, that is a discussion for another time, as he is definitely not the first to say this, another example is the talented, Denzel Washington was asked about Matt Damon’s statements on Project Greenlight about diversity beginning in the casting process. His response was good, he disagreed and said it starts with the writers, that’s why I say write your own stories, we have to write our own stories, it’s easy to say race, but a lot of times it’s culture, it’s different culture…” He is absolutely right about this, he states an example about something only black people would know, and continues, “so certain things are just cultural differences and we have to write about what we know, to ask someone else…it’s a culture, write about what you know first.” Now, although I understand exactly what he is saying. There is no one who will tell the black experience the way a black person can, and that goes for all diverse groups. You’re experience is necessary for a great script or story. However, there is a problem with this statement, as it allows bigots and racists to hide behind the fact that they are writing the same straight-white-able-bodied-alpha-male perspective because it’s all they know. I am not white or male but I write white and male characters in addition to many others, if I use this expression, “I write what I know,” I can also say this: I know the world is filled with everyday people just like me. But don’t they know this as well?
(image edited by William Yu)
In addition, Hollywood is not only about writing stories about deep culture, a lot of everyday films are just events scrolling in front of us, many characters could have been played by any ethnicity as the ethnicity is not written into the characters experience. This is why hashtags like #starringjohncho, showing movie posters with his face and body on the movie posters are believable, as many of those films could have been played by any ethnicity.
Although I created Cuvier Studios to be just what Denzel Washington is speaking of, writing our own stories, I also think there is more to making sure diversity no longer has to be discussed. As though if you are a writer, a writer who deep down feels as though you are an artist who creates worlds for others to experience, you should also write what you do not know. As with many films you have to investigate, research and then write about the topic. If you take the time to take one extra step forward through investigation, you will be a better person, the world you write will be better and in turn you will become a better writer and your script will become an even better film. In turn you will realize that John Cho like many other actors can not only play your character but a character that looks like him can easily live in the world that you created.