A while back, I conducted a “fearless and searching moral inventory” of the gender parity (or lack thereof) in my own work. If you’d like to know the reasons why, I suggest you read that post, but it boils down to one thing: I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and if I don’t take a good hard look at myself and the work I make, who will? I have to hold myself accountable.
It’s on that note that I’ve decided to do a similar assessment of the racial parity in my work. I have to admit up front that the results here are dismal on some fronts. I used the same three questions inspired in the original post by my friend Liz Maestri. The answers to those questions are clear. I have work to do.
A quick reminder: I assessed the most recent (and forthcoming) twelve plays I’ve written, including two that have yet to be produced.
From whose perspective is the story told?
Of the twelve plays in question, six are written from a clearly white perspective; white people constitute most of the main characters and are the predominant (if not only) voices in the story. Another five are ensemble pieces written from multiple points of view, including not only white and African America perspectives, but also Arab American voices. I have only one play written from what I consider to be an African American perspective.
Naturally, the first question that will come up is whether, as a white person, I’m even qualified to write from anything but a white perspective. It’s an important question, and one that I don’t want to dismiss, but I’m not interested in asking it here: I’ve asked it for myself, quite a bit, and my own answer (for me) is yes.
In any event, this the one question of the three I’ve asked where I’m satisfied with my answer.
Who directed the first production?
The answer here is abysmal: zero. I’ve never once worked with a director who wasn’t white, not in any of the nine first productions I’ve had. The closest I’ve come: the first reading of one of the three plays I haven’t had produced was directed by an African American woman. I’ve only even worked with one non-white dramaturg. Ugh. I’m mortified by this, and I plan to address it, by hook or by crook.
Finally, what is the racial breakdown of the characters I’ve written?
Here are the numbers: 49 white characters, 7 African American characters, and 3 Arab American characters. (Several of the characters I’ve listed as “white” could very well be portrayed by actors of color… but I wanted to be honest and indicate what races I held in my head as I was writing. Still, if a director wanted to cast some of those roles differently, I’d be very much open to the possibilities.)
I suppose I’ve “done okay” here… but I’m also concerned that if I don’t push myself, if I don’t take responsibility for creating opportunity for others, I won’t be doing as much as I can.
Okay: that’s all for this year, but I plan to check back in on this subject annually, to see whether I’ve made any progress. I hope like hell I have.