sujewa films nyc

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Date Number One features 5 minority actors in lead roles :: It is fairly easy to write interesting characters of ANY ethnicity, race or gender

One of the problems I had with American cinema back in the early 90's was that there weren't enough good roles/lead roles for minority actors. Not the biggest problem in the world by any stretch, but, since the world is very diverse ethnically or "racially"* & since America is very diverse, I found it very odd that most of the leads in most of the movies around me were "white" (I do however live in a very diverse part of the country, the Washington, DC area, so for someone who lives in an area that is not this diverse, it may feel perfectly normal not to see non-"white" people in movies). So, when I decided to become a filmmaker in '91, I also decided to have a very diverse cast in my movies & to create roles for minority actors.

I was able to follow through on that goal in Date Number One. Date Number One, a film made up of 5 stories, features a diverse cast that includes 5 minority actors in lead roles: Shervin Boloorian in Story 2, Dele Williams in Story 2, Steve Lee in Story 3, Christine D. Lee in Story 4, and Subodh Samudre in Story 5. The way that Date Number One is constructed, plot wise, some of these leads in each of the stories mentioned also show up as supporting characters in other stories, which allowed me to show different sides of the characters.

HOW TO WRITE/CREATE INTERESTING FILM CHARACTERS WHO ARE NOT OF YOUR GENDER OR ETHNIC GROUP, SOME TIPS:

1. Write from the inside: Forget the external differences (skin color, body parts) for the most part & focus on your universally human qualities (world views, fears, loves, needs, intellectual & emotional lives) & then locate those same universally human qualities in the characters that you create.

2. Be as specific as possible. There is no person in the real world named or at least with the identity of White Man or Black Man or Asian Woman. All group identities are mostly for political (organization & control of society) purpose and stop far short of reaching/adequately reflecting the personalities of each individual member in a given group. So, if you want to create a character who can belong to the group Asian Male & you are not a member of the group called Asian Male, then start with giving a unique identity to the character, an identity far removed from the Asian Male aspect of the character, & then work your way towards a point where that Asian-Male-group-member aspect of the character becomes relevant (it will be very far down the road of building the character). Or, by the time you come to considering the character's membership in a given ethnic group, you will already know several hundred unique things about the character AND that will help you keep the character from slipping into being an ill-defined member of a large group in your mind/creative project, a character whose behavior you cannot predict. So, be as specific as possible about many aspects of the character's life. It will help you create both unique & recognizable characters.

3. Use real life models: so you are a member of the group called "Black" Male or African-American Male and you want to create a character who is an arty "white" dude but you do not know how you should proceed, & you do not know any arty "white" dudes. Well, you can start by researching news info on creative "white" dudes. Thanks to the web you should be able to identify one pretty quickly & then also find interviews with the person which will allow you to figure out tastes & habits of the said celebrity or personality. That can be your starting point for building your character. Of course you want to add several dozen layers to the character so that the character will be unique, not a weak imitation of a celebrity.

Also, make new friends, observe their behavior, and those observations can provide material for you to flesh out characters.


4. The easy way out: Define the plot & other essential story elements well but leave the personality of the character loosely defined, hire an actor from the gender or ethnic group that you want the character to be, work with the actor to fill in the personality of the character, also work with the actor to get dialogue that would be authentic for that character, and be open to changing the plot & other essential story elements as the character gets well defined. Plot & character are linked in good stories, each affects the other.


Good luck in creating interesting characters who are not of your gender & ethnic group. There is a lot more I can write on this subject, and I probably will down the road.

- Sujewa

*note: i have race in quotes ("race") and Black, White in quotes ("White", "Black") in order to reflect my view that the idea of race is a theory and a very poorly constructed & largely false one at that, or to say that i do not believe in the theory of race but i am using terms from race theory in order to communicate with others who live in a society that largely accepts race theory, even though i do not believe in the meaning of the words as used by most people in the given context. hope that makes sense :)

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