Friday, September 07, 2007

Writing White?

Co-authors Donna Grant and Virginia DeBerry examine the subject and ask some very interesting questions:
"When an African American writer or entertainer achieves success with a wider (read White) audience, a la Will Smith or Terry McMillan, they are said to have cross-over appeal. Why isn’t the reverse true? When Blacks watch CSI, Spiderman 3 or pick up he latest John Grisham, no one attributes that to cross-over. Is it assumed that everyone will find these diversions entertaining? That race doesn’t matter as long as it’s White? That Blacks, Mexicans, Chinese, Lakhota Sioux, Lebanese and whomever else the census separates out will “get” the storyline and generate the dollars requisite for success?

Even in the racially diverse “Grey’s Anatomy”, the central character, intern Meredith Grey, is a White woman, despite the fact series writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, is African American. Happenstance or economics? Quiet as it’s kept, in our first novel, Exposures, we “wrote White”, deciding it was the surest way to test our joint writing chops--and get published. It worked; the novel sold in two weeks. It took a lot longer to find a home for our first book with Black characters. At the time we didn’t fit the established categories (we weren’t Toni or Terry), so many editors didn’t believe we would find an audience. They were wrong."
I think the observation about the blockbuster show "Grey's Anatomy" reveals much about the state of our union. Shonda Rhimes knows the key to reaching the largest audience is doing what works. Clearly her interests weren't in merely targeting African Americans and becoming marginally successful when compared to the "mainstream" TV echelon. She wanted to produce something that could reach all people......Which leads to an interesting question: suppose the suits and cuff links at ABC had refused to air "Grey's" if Shonda hired a white actress for the lead? What if they'd demanded that Meredith Grey and the other main roles be black so they could target AA viewers? Sound familiar?

I think it's great that Shonda Rhimes was allowed creative freedom without any apparent regard to her race. Why even bother pointing out that she's black, yet has a white female lead? I'm sure this ticks off many black racists as much as the day is long, but the bottom line is we shouldn't deny people freedom we've spent hundreds of years fighting for.

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