I admit, I love the expressions I get when I tell folks, “I really dig a good blood splatter”. This is the answer I give when I talk about the kind of films and television I love. The dramatic films I make, the stories I tell. Crime. Suspense. Thriller. Genre cinema for TV. Features that make me sit perched on the edge of my seat in a dark theater. Ones that make me squeal or applaud to the twists and turns of a murder mystery entangled and solved smartly. And yes, thrillers and ghost stories that make me view through my fingers, hiding my eyes, posed, ready to jump.
And jump I did, when I had the opportunity to create a panel for the upcoming BinderCon Los Angeles 2016, a writing conference to empower women and non-gender conforming writers.
Created and led by two talented, badass women, Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum, BinderCon began in New York City fall of 2014 and has grown to include conferences here in Los Angeles. The fourth BinderCon is happening here this weekend, March 19-20 at UCLA and I couldn’t be more excited. I wasn’t able to attend the first conference in 2014 but when they announced that the March 2015 BinderCon was going to be here in my hood, I grabbed the opportunity to volunteer. Of the tasks and responsibilities of putting together a conference of this magnitude I became Chair of the Scholarship Committee because I found an organization that is as dedicated as I am to providing opportunities to diverse artists who may not have the exposure and resources to network and grow their own careers. What a gift I received to be able to meet these incredible scholars. Their drive and dedication to their craft is inspiring for all of us.
For BinderCon LA 2016, I was honored to be asked to Co-Chair the Programming Committee and I put together a panel on writing genre for the screen. Specifically women writers who are invading the space traditionally held for male perspectives and stories. I chose to do this because of these questions I have about why the landscape looks like it does right now? Why the grumblings are getting louder, which is exciting, but what can we do to not just turn it into a roar but change things?
And due to my and BinderCon’s dedication to diversity, I began a search for a diverse group women who write genre. And although there’s a short list out there for features and a bit of longer list for television, and a few in some more unique platforms, there are very few WOC’s.
The question then is why don’t more of us, WOC’s, see genre as a storytelling option? Or do we and it’s just not getting produced? And if it’s true that as writers we all start with what we know, which I have definitely done, writing about race and poverty, survival and oppression why aren’t these stories coming out as action films or SciFi or horror, for that matter?
There is an increase in slavery films (which means there’s been two or three…) which is our history and definitely should be told from our perspectives but what about other stories? Can we explore all these same vital issues but in a futuristic world? With armies of creatures and…androids, perhaps?. With stars exploding and evil vapors that we fight and overcome?
What about action films? Who is the WOC writing the Die Hard movie some of us are dying to see with a super badass WOC kicking bad guy butt? (Okay, I’m going to throw my hat into the ring on this one. I’m working as fast as I can. ) And what about horror? Thriller? Sci Fi? Who are the WOC’s making those movies?
I am a really proud WOC, a COC writer. (Chick of Color). My perspective on the world, the lens I view life through and therefore write about, is from being Mixed Blood. (Black, Native, maybe Latina, wee bit German…that’s a longer story for a different time) What I’ve learned over the years as a women of color artist is that it’s vital to my work to be held and supported in community. However, I am very careful about where I go for that, where I fit in, where I can make strides, where I’m accepted and celebrated like everyone else. And I’m lucky that those spaces are growing for me and other WOC writers across the country. So I attend as many events as I can about our industry and the current landscape for diverse voices.
A few years ago, at a panel after a screening of Red Tail, David Oyelowo spoke about ‘the one’ and how Black male actors are held up against Denzel and if they can’t be Denzel, because he’s “the one”, then there’s no room for anyone else. He eloquently and passionately rebuked this notion and said Black male actors have to support to each other. There is room. Make room.
This concept of only “one” definitely applies to women in this industry. See the problem? If you break that “one” down to see where WOC’s fit in you get a fraction? A teeny tiny part of the ‘one’. It’s like for crime and suspense television drama (think of times you spent perched on the edge of your seat watching HTGAWM) Shonda Rhimes is the “one”. She is incredible and continues to dominate. But one is not enough. I love seeing what’s happening in the writers’ room for Empire or that Courtney Kemp Agboh is Executive Producer for her show Power or Pam Veasey of the CSI: crime dramas but that still means I could probably count on my hands the number of WOC writing in genre television. Please someone, correct me. Give me more names. I’m searching for you.
In genre features, making big budget action films, Sci Fi, and or horror, the incredibly talented Jenny Lumet (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED) is at Universal creating the Monster movie reboots. She is also a keynote speaker at BinderCon in addition to serving on the Space Invaders panel I put together. She may be leading a charge but she can’t be the only one writing big budget scary monster flicks? Why is there still only one? We certainly don’t accept that. So how can we change it?
I took on the task of this search for the screenwriters knowing it could be difficult but it’s important to explore so we understand so we can change things. The lack of WOC writing genre It’s not only the lack financial support to create or the decisions made by studio and network heads. The issue is deeper than that. I think it goes all the way back to the little girls like I was, with a bowl of ice cream, curled up on the couch watching cop shows on tv or sitting in movie theaters watching films that don’t portray us or the future us as anything other than hookers and maids, stupid thug girlfriends and exasperated defeated mothers.
So if the number of current WOC writing genre is connected to what we were exposed to as youth on TV and in film, then that means what we create today will increase the writers of genre in the future. Which is great and I’m dedicated to being a part of that. But to get that full rich future that reflects the real world we live in, we need to support the writers today so they can create the stories that are exciting, thrilling, suspenseful and yes, sometimes give a good blood splatter.
For more information about the conference including registration, panel sessions and times please visit the website.