The Truth About Being A Black British Screenwriter
Getting The Respect You Deserve As A Black British Screenwriter, A Die Hard Mission Impossible… – JM
DID HE JUST SAY THAT?
Yes, I said it! Someone had to! It’s hard being a Black British Screenwriter. In Britain it isn’t Black History Month. Over here, there is still very far to go before you will see the types of stories I grew up starved for. My daily diet is composed of a lot of TV, Film and Books. Don’t think for a single second this is coming from nowhere. I’ve studied my craft and I continuously practice it well. Having travelled far and wide to seek the wisdom of my peers, trusted the opinions of others and even entered festivals in lands I’ve never travelled to!
These are not the ramblings of someone who has given up; rather they are the words of someone who is getting even more fired up! Have you never gotten fired up before delivering your best stuff? – JM
WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM?
What is fuelling this fire? The stupid myth this country is clinging desperately to. Yes, I’m talking about the vaunted gatekeepers. You might like to think of yourselves as upholding standards but you’re really so far beneath it.
Everyone has a reason not to give you a chance as a writer, no one is immune to rejection. This is known to all who have tried to gain representation or pitch an idea etc. Now add being black and male on top. There is a fetish for BAME female writers and it seems the black man is collateral damage. Now am I happy to see BAME people of any kind secure the bag? Of course! Should that diminish the demand for my stories and perspective? No! Balance is the goal after all right?
MOVING GOALPOSTS FOR BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITERS…
You’ve won awards? That’s nice, but have you won this particular one? Yeah I mean exactly the one that traditionally has never been awarded to your types (unique black) of story.
You know, ones where the black people in them do things over than get whipped for period specific reference, get called uncivilised or savages, sell work out of an estate or hurt people as a hobby.
Badly disguised coded language to the highest degree, with people passing on the world’s most patronising advice as if you’re far too stupid to notice. We can’t market your story about black people who came here in the heights of racist Britain via boat and the foundation they set up for future generations. Yes, because all we seem to do here is make
period pieces where black people are treated like fodder until somebody (white) saves them or they die in service.
Maybe it’s because in this particular story they speak patios amongst themselves in parts. They have only one child, they hustle to survive. The youngster skips school to contribute, working with his hands to come up. He gets married, sends his only child to boarding school, to give him the best possible chance at elevating his lineage to more legitimate endeavours. I could go on but you get the point. 3 generations in one story. Rich world building and character depth.
IF IT WERE…
On the other hand, if this family were to be based in America and let’s say Italian in descent. These same gatekeepers would welcome it with open arms. Rhetoric like, “It’s so authentic, they even speak Italian amongst each other” etc. There is a reason people (not me) have dubbed Tree House the mini/baby (TV) Godfather worldwide. It resonates as a story that needs to be told. Is it an exact replica? No! However, it is a point of reference much like Tolkien was for Martin. Did that make Songs of Ice and Fire any less of a celebrated masterpiece? Open your minds and stop being so rigid. Move past period pieces and romanticising about a lack of social progress.
BRITISH TV/FILM HAS NO MARKET FOR STORIES FROM BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITERS?
I’m tired of the made up excuses about what can and can’t work, while comparing it to other things from across the Atlantic. British TV is dire because there is no representation. There is no medium between period drama whitewashing and estate life. If there is, it’s an exercise in tokenism and not something with any staying power. It is never used as a launching pad for other unique stories. There is a reason people are seeking these American shows with pluralism. Firstly they are interesting and secondly they at least attempt to address the imbalance.
BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITERS ARE HERE ON THE BACK OF SKILL/WILL…
Careers have been launched (America), resurrected and there is progression in sight. New voices have been nurtured and they make sure the world knows who they are. Over here? It’s as if you have to wait for someone to die for an opening. Even the people with credits get put on ice and abandoned to melancholy for years. Acting isn’t the only creative endeavour in Film/TV! Stop making it about the success of one person while ignoring so many others of equal or even superior talent. It’s not a turnstile, this one in one out thing has to stop!
LITERARY AGENCIES I AM TALKING TO YOU…
Agencies! Do you even have BAME people reading your submissions? Not that you should be blind to good storytelling in the first place, but why is it you don’t seem to believe unique stories from BAME communities are very ‘now’? Was there a memo stating that being a screenwriter was off limits to black men in particular that I didn’t receive?
BEING A BLACK BRITISH SCREENWRITER BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
I wrote Feminunity 3 years before #METOO and the ‘all black’ solidarity for #TIMESUP. This story has strong female characters (7 lead roles) and covers situations not dissimilar to some of the chilling stories victims have bravely shared. Why shouldn’t this see the light of day? Shouldn’t it be made? Is this not relevant and now? Can’t an R rated film showing something other than slavery/war/Nazi Germany be backed here? Do I have to go to America before England says, “Hey big head?”
I know everybody has heard about the success of The Black Panther movie #WakandaForever. However, there is more to it than just good marketing, casting and the draw of comic books. People are starved for movies which serve up more than the same ole same old. Representation definitely matters! So where is that same energy in the UK? Where are these new Black British voices? I’m just asking for a friend…
Award winning screenwriter, poet and recently nominated blogger. I believe in Truthful, Fearless, Creativity. Writing is a gift I don’t take for granted! Life is finite, so I’m here now and I’d like to make an impact. As a person I am positive, engaging, laidback, jovial but also capable of intense focus. I’ve known for years what I wanted to do and I’ve set about it with passion and originality. As you can imagine, being artificially held back is not something I could’ve predicted. The frustration I feel is a byproduct.
Extract from The Thought Book 2 by Jay Mullings. Jay is an award-winning screenwriter, and his books The Thought Book & The Thought Book 2 are out now, available from writtenmirror.com. Follow Jay on twitter and Instagram @WrittenMirror.
Thanks to The Book Publicist for inviting me to be part of this tour.