White People Know How To Write About Black People?

By now you have heard that that the 2016 Academy Awards will be whiter than Conan O’Brien’s inner thighs.

With that said, let’s talk about ‘Straight Out of Compton’, a film that cost an estimated $28 million to make and has since raked in more than $200 million.

In case you have been under a rock, N.W.A is an 80’s collective of rappers who opted for black jeans, black hoodies and black winter hats in the dead of baby African summers. They made songs that highlighted the comings and goings of bitches, tricks, gangsters, and hoes all the while encouraging the masses to raise their middle fingers at unscrupulous members of law enforcement.

They were black for no reason black. Jheri curls dripping down foreheads while flipping through Ebony Magazine black. Red Kool-Aid in a mayonnaise jar black. Hit it from the back in black church socks and hard bottom gator shoes black.

MC Hammer once danced hard in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial and that moment was still not blacker than the authentic inner-city rage of ‘Niggaz With Attitudes’.

So I’m perplexed on the highest level that the film about their rise to fame, produced by two of its members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre among others—and directed by the wonderfully talented F. Gary Gray (‘The Negotiator’, ‘Set it Off’, ‘Friday’) was written by writers who are whiter than the walls of Joan Rivers’ ghost vagina.

The screenplay for ‘Straight Out of Compton’ was penned by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff.   Prior to ‘Compton’, Berloff had a writing credit for the film ‘World Trade Center’ (2006) and a short film you never heard of called ‘Domestic’ (2002). Herman has only ONE writing credit other than ‘Compton’ and it is for a film that does not come out until 2017!!

Say what now?

We have two writers here with nary a proven track record and certainly no prior work that was reflective of the African American experience. Because of course that is normally the excuse when white writers get amazing jobs writing about the blacks. The narrative is usually “well you know, they wrote ‘Titanic’ and ‘Castaway’ so we knew they could pull off a great script for Pooty Tang 3”.

Nope.

Has this gaggle of white folks even smelled Jheri curl activator before?  Could they have picked Eazy E out of a lineup before getting that golden writing gig? Did they know the difference between Dr. Dre and Dr. Scholl before getting the phone call that changed their lives?

Also nominated for an Academy Award alongside Berloff and Herman are S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus who are listed as “story” contributors for ‘Compton’. You guessed it. They too have the complexion of a perfectly boiled pot of rice. Yeah, that’s them.

FOUR white people are up for Hollywood’s top prize for crafting the story of the Southern California rap group ‘Niggaz With Attitudes’. Let that sink in like the Blue Magic hair grease holding down your edges.

I promise you, nobody named Leroy or E’bangunetta had a pen on ‘Schlindler’s List’.

I’m not contending that any one particular actor or the director of this film was deserving of an Oscar nomination, so untwist your panties and/or boxer briefs and settle down. That’s not what this is about.

This is about the insanity of everyone affiliated with the film being shafted while the four people who are whiter than underage drinking, now being able to add “Academy Award nominated….” to their resumes. Oh the places their careers will go from here.

The African American writing community certainly stands in solidarity with our brothas and sistas who make a living in front of the camera. However, as we move forward with talks of boycotts and improving diversity in Hollywood do NOT FORGET US.

Far too often when the big check comes or the high profile situation crystallizes, we are the ones left standing outside with our faces pressed against the window. The actors and directors are justified in raising their frustrated voices, but let’s be real many of them still have multi-million dollar checking account balances after snatching $40 from the ATM.

Meanwhile, writers of color are working three gigs to make ends meet while simultaneously working on scripts that will likely not be given the time of day. If black actors and actresses are the step children of Hollywood, then black writers are the orphans outside on the sidewalk in sleeping bags.   So keep that in mind rich black thespians when you are so moved to hit us with the “whoa is me” speech.

Hollywood sleeps well at night knowing that the stories of prominent African American figures are in the white—I mean right—hands. Case in point:

‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ (Tina Turner biopic written by Kate Lanier—who also wrote ‘Set it Off’ by the way)

‘42’ (Jackie Robinson biopic—written by Brian Helgeland)

Get On Up’ (James Brown biopic written by Jez Butterworth, John Butterworth, and Steven Baigelman— three white men)

‘Selma’ (Martin Luther King biopic—written by Paul Webb–snowy white)

‘Race’ (upcoming Jesse Owens biopic written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse-two more white folks)

As you are reading this, Hollywood is scouting for a white writer to tell the story of me telling this story.

On the flip side, shout out to the director Dee Rees who had her pen on ‘Bessie’ and the recently departed James L. White who wrote the screenplay for ‘Ray’. That’s what I’m talking about!

I truly empathize with the plight of the actors and actresses that feel slighted in Hollywood. “Lord Knows I DO,” in my Sophia from Color Purple voice’, but for obvious reasons I am more concerned with the plight of often overlooked African American writers.

You have NOTHING without writers. Discussions about diversity too often focus on what’s happening in front of the camera.

This is why I was so thrilled to read Spike Lee’s statement on Instagram, “….How is it possible that for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white? And let’s not even get into the other branches…..”.

Yes. The other branches.

Meanwhile, let me get back to working on my screenplay about Paula Deen’s rise to soul food cooking prominence as told by Hulk Hogan through Caucasian translator Mel Gibson.  Because we all know damn well I ain’t getting the Natalie Cole gig.

white people

*Originally published on Mister the Writer.

 

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2 thoughts on “White People Know How To Write About Black People?

  1. I knew about the glaring and shameful lack of nominations for actors of color this year, but I admit I had no idea that the writers of “Straight Outta Compton” were both white and nominated.

    (Full disclosure: I cannot remember the last movie I saw in a theater, though I catch up with many when I can rent them from home.)

    With that disclosure, I think I’ve disqualified myself from expressing an opinion. What I wanted most to say is your words made me think, made me want to explore this issue more, made me want to see the film, certainly — even more than I already wanted to see it.

    I agree that the focus is too much “in front of the camera”, which unfortunately is not unexpected. These are the people movie-goers see, identify with, fall in love with, want to be. As a fan of classic films, it’s a study for me to observe how slowly, over a century, some few people are finally getting interested (or even just aware) of writers, directors, etc.

    Thank you for helping me to expand my perspective.

  2. This is the funniest thing I’ve read about this entire issue.

    I thought it was just a total slap in the face, that all of the PoC got ignored for Straight Outta Compton, in favor of nominating the handful of barely experienced white people. That was is so blatantly insulting, its like the Academy put special effort into doing it.

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