There has been an influx of white writers writing Black characters. The trend being agents and publishers are no longer interested in writing that does not reflect our society’s cultural diversity; so white authors are slapping Black names on white characters without doing their due diligence, as well as appropriating and monetizing Black culture just to stay relevant.
I listened to one U.K. author rant for 15 minutes about people advising her not to write Black characters. “It’s infuriating,” she said. When I told her Black writers should be writing The Crown, she responded, “Oh no, you can’t do that. Blacks can’t write about the Queen.”
White people have been writing Black characters for years:
American Gangster, Amistad, 42, Black Panther, Bird, Cool Runnings, Juwanna Mann (aka Black Tootsie), The Help, Straight Outta Compton, Ray, The Blind Side, Get On Up, Hidden Figures (screenwriters), Ali, The Hurricane, The People vs. O.J., The Jacksons, Soul, Basquiat, Shaka Zulu, Judas & The Black Messiah.
We’re not done:
Green Book, Bad Boys 1, 2, and 3, Nina, Akeelah & the Bee, Glory, Coming To America, The Butler, Bessie, Space Jam 1 & 2, Malcolm & Marie, Watchman, Cry Freedom, The Color Purple (screenwriters), Hotel Rwanda, Hattie McDaniel biopic.
Do Black actors like having white writers put words into their mouths? Isn’t that puppetry? Or are Black audiences, actors, and producers simply conditioned to having their stories told by white counterparts—like Pavlov’s dog? That’s how you get a story about Steven Biko, starring Kevin Kline. To date, there has not been a Disney movie written by someone Black. What is that teaching our kids?
Why are the gatekeepers systematically preventing Black writers from telling their stories? For far too long, books and movies have told Black people to meet injustice with love and forgiveness (The Help, Green Book, Mandela). Yet, when whites people are met with the same injustice, books and movies tell them to stand up and fight (Braveheart, Gladiator, Legally Blonde). What are the real messages Hollywood is sending?
Television is no different. From The Jeffersons to The Cosby Show to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to The Wire to Lovecraft Country—all were written and created by white writers. How authentic can that be? HBO’s Lovecraft Country goes so far as to attempt to hide the fact they are basing the TV show off one white man’s vision (Matt Ruff) of another racist white man’s novel (H.P. Lovecraft)—but if they slap a Black female director on it, all of that will go away, along with oppressive literature disguised as science fiction.
I have been categorically disgusted with the Eurocentric portrayal of Black people in futuristic sagas and fantasy books. If Black people are portrayed at all, they have zero arcs and serve only as comedic elements or glorified props to help push the white hero’s journey forward. Where is the nuanced complexity for Black characters?
Black people are finally waking up and saying, “Enough!” And white writers are outraged. How dare you tell us we cannot write Black characters anymore. We’ve been writing Blacks people for centuries. If white writers can write about slavery, we can write about the holocaust, right? Yet you don’t see Black people writing the Holocaust, Star Wars, the Queen, war sagas, period pieces, Elvis’ biopic, or anything based on a true story by a white author. Why are Black people systemically prevented from writing these stories?
Name one predominately Caucasian movie written by a Black person. I’ll wait. While you’re googling, let’s check out the disproportionate language used to describe slave narratives versus the holocaust.
Slaves = Hostages Mistresses = Rape Victims
Slave Owners = Human Traffickers Overseers = Torturers
Plantations = Death Camps Middle Passage = Genocide
American Dirt is a book that benefits from this very controversy. A novel about Mexican immigration written by an author who professed to be white in 2015, but has since changed her tune (claiming she now has a Puerto Rican grandmother) to sell books. And Oprah promotes and endorses the book asserting, “It woke me up, and I feel that everybody who reads this book is actually going to be immersed in the experience of what it means to be a migrant on the run for freedom.” This opinion has been widely viewed as exploitative, oversimplified, and ill-informed.
Now there’s nothing wrong with non-Mexican or non-Blacks writing about the plight of Blacks or Mexicans. What’s wrong is erasing authentic voices to sell an inaccurate cultural appropriation for millions.
A reckoning is happening. Black people are speaking out. And yes, surprisingly this article was written by a Black author.