Diversity in screenwriting is an important topic. We all deserve to see ourselves represented in the media we consume, whether in film, television, or video games. The reality of the world is that all people are different and unique.
To accurately portray that reality, we must be consciously inclusive in our screenwriting. How can you write more diverse stories?
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In this blog, learn how to use character descriptions, character backgrounds, traits that make someone diverse, and your voice to champion stories that feature diversity.
Use character descriptions to show diversity
A simple way to bring diversity to your script is by identifying your characters’ race when they’re introduced. Often, a character whose race isn’t mentioned or described will be assumed to be white. This is true for a few reasons, including that historically we’ve seen significantly more white characters appear on the screen and are now trained to expect them. So, just by including a character’s race or ethnicity on the page, you can be more inclusive.
Remember the character’s unique lens
It’s not always as easy as making your protagonist a person of color or an LGBTQ+ character. Rarely can you just insert a new character description into a script and be done with it. It will likely take some thinking and rewriting to make your script believable when adding a character from a diverse background.
Sure, sometimes it’s nice to see a movie where a character’s race or gender doesn’t impact the story at all, but other times it’s frustrating. For example, the story and challenges a white character would face when becoming president would be very different from those that an African American character would face, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
The things that make us different dictate our experiences in the world, how people interact with us, and what opportunities are available to us. It can feel flat or not believable to have a story not acknowledge what makes a character different. AMC’s “Interview with the Vampire” does a great job of adapting protagonist Louis as an African American lead. Louis’ race plays a role in the story and is shown to color his view of the world in a way that is different from what Lestat, a white European character, experiences.
Consider many diverse traits
Diversity is more than writing a woman protagonist or making a character a person of color. There exists a whole spectrum of areas of diversity that don’t regularly see representation in media. When writing, consider creating characters from some of these greatly underrepresented groups.
Characters over 40, particularly women, don’t often see themselves in leading or romantic roles.
- Body Inclusivity
The average clothing size for American women is a size 14, but you wouldn’t know that from watching our media! Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, yet our films and TV shows often only depict the thinnest or the fittest.
- Sexual Orientation
Beyond being straight or gay, there are a ton of other sexual orientations! Pansexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, etc., should all be considered.
Beyond being cis-gendered, there are many different gender identities. Representation for transgender, non-binary, intersex and many other identities is greatly lacking.
I once heard someone say that being abled-bodied is temporary for all of us. There are many disabilities, both visible and invisible, and we all will likely have to contend with some form of disability in our lifetimes, so why don’t we see more storylines featuring disabled characters?
Champion your diverse characters
While developing your script, you might get notes that compromise or question the diversity in your story. You’ll have to stand up for and champion your diverse characters. You don’t want to let critiques lead to a watered-down or whitewashed version of the representation that you set out to create. Suppose you’re worried about negative changes being made after you sell a script. In that case, you can include a casting restriction clause in your contract to prevent characters’ diverse identities from being erased.
Bringing diversity to the screen is why I became a screenwriter. Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented in the media I watched. Now I aim to change that. Bringing diversity and inclusivity to your writing doesn’t need to feel overwhelming or like a chore that you have to do. It’s as simple as acknowledging so many types of people in this world, and it would be unrealistic for writers not to depict some of that diversity in their work. If we’re thoughtful and honest in our writing, we can create a more diverse and representative film and television landscape. Keep working on making inclusive scripts! Happy writing!