Writing Diverse Work
Representation matters. Full stop. There is no situation in which representation doesn’t matter. As a light-skinned Hipanic, lower class, disabled, woman; representation will always matter to me. As a playwright just starting out, I’ve run into a dilemma where I was questioning how to keep my work representative of what the world really looks like, but also keep the space open for people to tell their own stories. An obvious answer would be to simply write about what I know and my stories, which in and of itself is representative. I could write about the light-skinned Hispanic experience in America. I can write about what it is like to be lower class and somehow people think that means “less than.” I could write about the daily struggles of mental health. I could write about being a woman in a very patriarchal society. My stories are representative.
That said, I am also aware of my privileges. I am young. I am cisgendered and heterosexual. I am light-skinned. Just because I have struggles doesn’t mean that I don’t also have privilege. So then, what am I “allowed” to write about? I asked around a bit and one thing that has stood out to me was that when I am writing my characters, are they all white? Are they all heterosexual? Are they all able-bodied? If they are, why? Does my world look like that? And if it does, then I have bigger problems than figuring out how to write a diverse representative piece of work. Here are a few things I’ve been reading, learning, and thinking about when it comes to writing diverse work:
Nothing About Us, Without Us: Write diverse characters, please! But don’t do it alone without consulting someone who falls into the group you are writing. If you are writing about a Hispanic character and you are not Hispanic, find someone who is and can consult with you about the character you are writing. That said, PAY YOUR COLLABORATORS. You don’t get our emotional labor and experiences for free.
Conscious Casting: If the characters you are writing don’t behave in a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, etc way, then they don’t have to be cast as such. Leave out last names on your characters so that your characters don’t get Europeanized if they don’t have to be. Make a playwright’s note that the producer/director/casting director should be casting the show in a diverse way.
Write Well-Rounded Characters: To write diverse work you don’t have to pretend to be an expert on someone else’s life stories. In fact, please DON’T do that. You can write well-rounded diverse characters without claiming to be the voice for a person’s experiences that you have never had. In a Ted Talk one time America Ferrera said, “I wanted to play people who were complex and multidimensional, people who existed in the center of their own lives. Not cardboard cutouts that stood in the background of someone else’s.” Write real characters. Don’t write cardboard cutouts.
Writing diverse work is so important. Do it, but tread carefully and the most important thing you should take away from this is, nothing about us without us. Maybe even consider a BIPOC, disabled, transgender, and/or LGBTQ+ dramaturg to help you with new play dramaturgy next time you finish a script. Representation matters. Full stop.