There is always discussion on the right or wrong/ness of other ethnicities writing stories outside of their ethnicity. As writers, we all know that you have to write the stories that want to be told through you. Not long ago, black stories were only allowed to be told through white writers as black writers were considered “less than able” to tell our own stories. A classic black story is Sounder which garnered both Golden Globe and Academy Award Nominations for the late Cicely Tyson, an extraordinary actress who lived with purpose. Had the story not been written, she would have never had the opportunity. The white author of Sounder admits the story came from his black school teacher.
“But one night at the great center table after he had told the story of Argus, the faithful dog of Odysseus, he told the story of Sounder, a coon dog. It is a black man’s story, not mine. It was not from Aesop, the Old Testament, or Homer. It was history – his history.” – Sounder by William H. Armstrong
The unfortunate thing was that author couldn’t seem to remember his teacher’s name to give him actual “story by” credit. Undoubtedly, the story of Sounder was to be shared, had to be shared… And, we are grateful for this sharing.
Serendipitously, I caught a Close/Up with the Hollywood Reporter Writers Roundtable on YouTube hosted by Scott Feinberg with: Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman), Radha Blank (The Forty-Year-Old Version), Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), and Kemp Powers (One Night in Miami*, Soul), the segment discussed some interesting insights on working through the Pandemic safely, directing their own screenplays (*One Night in Miami is directed by Regina King), the change in how the work is seen by the audience and the question of who should write what. The writers are very candid.
The challenges will not go away over night or over decades- it has seemed -but we must try to do our best in telling our stories and pushing to not limit ourselves or the work. Being Black can mean, in a lot of cases, that we are mixed with other things; we have the right to write those stories too.
As a people, we are affected by the mutation of Eugenics and how that has wounded us – from our ancestors to ourselves and to our sons and daughters. Sterilization / castration without consent is something that still happens.
“Then he grabbed stuff, this and that and that and this and this and that and that and those – Scissors. He inserted them and CLIPPED!! Babies, I thought of babies. I looked him in the eye, this white man who was raping me with stuff made of steal. He looked at me. An expression. A small detectable grin. ‘Oops!’ he said.” – Oops! by Robin Byrd
Some of these stories are hard to tell; we wonder why it’s still happening. Fighting for equality promised to us by law is exhausting…
“but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ i havent conquered yet/ do you see the point my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender/” – For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange
We have the right to tell the truths of our people and to write about how we are surviving more things than being shot in the streets, in our homes… We have the right to be awake without apology…
We also have the right to walk in love without that being mistaken as a pass for more abuse…
More books to read:
Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts.