Diversity in story writing has become a more mainstream topic in Hollywood in recent years – why? The film and television industries are actively making their projects more diverse and inclusive. It’s an amazing and long overdue move to provide greater representation of race, religion, disability and gender.
It’s not a political thing. It’s just the right thing to do. According to Center for Scholars & Storytellers AIR Reportmovies that have a more diverse cast of characters and accompanying storylines do more at the box office than those that don’t.
It’s pretty simple and straightforward when it comes to why Hollywood is pushing for more diversity in writing, as well as in front of and behind the camera.
- Again, this is the right thing to do.
- The business side of things points to the equation that more representation equals more viewership.
According to United States census data alone (the world’s largest film industry):
51% of US residents are women (United States Census Bureau)
40% of US residents are people of color (KFF)
26% of American adults (18+) live with a visible or invisible disability (CDC)
16% of Gen Z American adults (18-23 in 2020) identify as LGBTQ (Gallup)
6% of American adults (18+) identify as LGBTQ (Gallup)
So not only is it the right thing to do to provide representation through diverse inclusion through casting and hiring crews, but it’s also a pretty good business decision.
With that in mind, here are five ways screenwriters can do their part in this industry change movement that is already well underway.
Tell more diverse stories across genres
The most obvious and effective way to do your part as a screenwriter is to tell amazing and diverse stories in your screenplays.
- We had an all-Asian film that made over $230 million at the box office (crazy rich Asians).
- We had a story about one of the most common disabilities in the world (deafness) winning multiple Oscars and winning a $25 million acquisition from Apple (CODA).
- We even had an all-black superhero movie that made over $1.3 billion worldwide (Black Panther).
- Prior to 2011, the idea of an all-female comedy (lead roles) was considered box office poison — or at best a huge gamble. Bridesmaids rose to $288 million gross. The film paved the way for more feminine films.
These are just a few of the performance’s huge successes over the years.
Scripts that focus on the A-Story elements of race, religion, disability, and gender are currently in high demand in Hollywood. So if you have a story to tell that features these various elements, go for it. And you can achieve this with the most in-demand genres that Hollywood is looking for the most in the spec script market:
Look no further than what Jordan Peele did in his job — get out, Weand Nope — three high-profile original films in a traditionally predominantly white genre with its main cast.
Yes, it’s not easy to sell a drama – whether or not it has a performance inside. But what you can do is mix diversity with Hollywood genres Is search in the specifications market.
So, write those scripts that feature character-driven story and diversity. Hollywood wants them. And mix them with the genres that Hollywood can make more money from.
Use character description to showcase diversity
It is natural for a script reader assign either their own race (76% of the US population is white) or the race of most lead actors or actresses (59% of actors in the US are white) to a character in their head, unless specified opposite. And when we say “script reader,” we’re talking about anyone involved in development or production who reads the script, including directors and casting directors.
So, use the character description to inject diversity into your storyline.
Old Hollywood mentalities will state that this limits your script and its cast. This is old world thinking and no longer applies. Since we know that Hollywood is actively trying to create more diverse projects, it’s wise to embrace that and offer them more diverse storylines.
Make sure various main characters have a story
Although this is an important step, it is not enough to simply use the character description to stipulate a character’s race. If you want to give certain audience members some form of representation, you should also do your best to represent those diverse choices beyond the superficial elements of color, religious titles, gender titles, and disabilities.
You also need to relate these various choices to the story elements you’re presenting.
- Instead of just having an African American as a sheriff taking on a threat, have him live and work in a small, predominantly white town. They have story A of dealing with threat and story B of possibly dealing with bias.
- Instead of just having an Asian character as their martial arts master, make them have no knowledge of it (which is closer to reality than Hollywood usually portrays Asians) as they learn more about their own culture of their homeland.
- Instead of having a female as a deadly special ops soldier, make her the first to face the threat at hand and to be a female soldier in a male-dominated environment.
- Instead of just giving a character a handicap, build that handicap into the core concept by giving them an advantage or disadvantage in the story’s central conflict because of it.
Don’t just tick a box by assigning a character a race, religion, gender, or disability. It is not an exact representation. Work these elements into the story to create depth.
Stop typing “White” in the character description unless it’s vital to the story
As a former studio script reader, I’ve always wondered why people bother to put “white” or “Caucasian” in the character description. Nine times out of ten it had nothing to do with the character and his place in the story.
As I mentioned before, it’s natural for script readers to assign their own race when not told otherwise. For the writers, it’s just as natural to also visualize our own race – or the 59% of the actors there.
Assigning a “white” or “caucasian” character description has become a habit over the past hundred years of screenwriting. But if you’ve read as many scripts as I have over the years, you’ll see how hilarious and meaningless those designations are. And, of course, it goes deeper and deeper into the psyche of our society when it comes to race.
So a very simple way to do your part in this diversity movement in Hollywood is to refrain from labeling characters as white or Caucasian unless those characters have to be just that. It’s perfectly fine if this character is going to be white. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s your story.
But the moment you remove meaningless designations from your script is the moment a future casting director attached to your project may see an opportunity to diversify the project by not having to deal with that pre-labeled description.
Give your secondary characters various B and C stories
If you look at the world we live in, diversity is generally not an issue. The people around us are of different colors, shapes and sizes and come from different walks of life. It’s actually kind of fun to see a push back when it comes to showcasing characters and stories with more diverse inclusion. It’s representative of the world we live in.
Scriptwriters can do their part by providing diversity not only through the main characters, but also through the secondary characters. And as we mentioned above, it’s not enough to tick a box by assigning a specific race, religion, disability, or gender (or non-gender) to secondary characters. We’re not just ticking boxes here. We want to deepen these choices so that the performance is real and cathartic for those who identify with it.
- Perhaps a secondary character’s religious beliefs conflict with the actions taken by the main characters?
- Maybe a supporting character’s disability helps or hurts the ensemble’s efforts, and they all have to come to terms with it?
- Perhaps having a female soldier in an otherwise all-male platoon helps the mission?
Creating more diversity and representation in film and television is not and should not be politically motivated. It’s just the right thing to do. It offers more audience members the experience of being able to identify more closely with the characters they see on screen, and it can help educate other audience members about people’s experiences and cultures. other races, religions, abilities, strengths/difficulties and genders.
Screenwriters can do their part with these five simple actions, but for those who already have a script written, you can use tools like Final Draft’s Inclusiveness Analysis to find out how diverse and inclusive your screenplay is. In fact, this feature of Final projectwhich was designed with input from the Geena Davis Institute, measures character traits such as gender, race, religion, orientation, abilities, and more, so you can better understand how well your scenario is inclusive.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, first as a liaison with Sony studios and later as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a product writer, meeting Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as numerous production and management companies. He previously had a development deal with Lionsgate, as well as several writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackoutstarring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle and Bruce Boxleitner, the thriller feature film of the hunter Creed, and many lifetime thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies