The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A Question of Race

While writing my football script that the elders say will bring balance to the force and create a surging tide of good-will that will devastate the coast of some far-off land*, I started to wonder just why I should make an effort to declare ethnicity in a script. I mean we’re all color blind right?


I’m not talking about holding hands and singing songs. I’m just wondering if and why writers might feel it necessary. Shouldn’t a person’s mannerisms/customs/relations/diction paint an accurate portrait of who that person is without having to resort to the literal? Perhaps if you are playing a character against type you would need to be specific up front for the reader. But other than that, is it a crime to let the readers paint their own picture?

I’m guessing you don’t want to create a scenario where your reader assumes a character is white, then on page 35 finds out through dialogue that he is black. You want your reader to get an accurate picture in as few words as possible. Do I need to identify a character named Malik as African American? Probably not. But if Malik is white, then it must be stated.

Right now, I’m just writing my descriptions without the mention of race. I’m wondering if anyone feels I’m doing the reader a disservice. Am I creating unease in the reader or giving them a sense that my script is not on firm ground? Should every visual in a screenplay be so concrete that the reader gets the exact image I have in my head?

I say, let the reader bring their own experiences and draw their own conclusions (within reason of course).

What say you?

*Truth be told, good will rarely devastates, except when a good Samaritan reminds you that the Krispy Kreme donut you're eating is loaded with trans fat. In that case, good will could result in a black eye or, at the very least, a stern talking-to.


  • At 3:23 PM, Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said…

    The Council of Malistare concurs. However, I am a little more demanding with my readers. I require that they go through an intensive experiential detox program designed to eliminate any cultural biases. You should see the feedback I get on Hyperbaric Chamber Week!

  • At 2:31 AM, Blogger Systemaddict said…

    This is something I have both done, and not done in scripts.

    Denote races.

    I find something always seems to occur from not denoting such things with certain characters...

    Their subtle complexities get questioned.

    I don't typically write "crash" type of stories...but I do like multi-cultural characters. (maybe stemming from being a vancouverite)...

    my point being, no one ever questions the little things when it's stated that this person is a muslim or this person is black.
    Sadly...more often than not, when I don't say what ethnicity a character is, a reader assumes they're white.

    maybe thats a reflection of my writing skills? Or possibly, what the reader has come to suspect?

  • At 8:22 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said…

    Somewhere on Craig Mazin's site is a lengthy argument regarding the declaration of race.


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