Somewhere Between Tarot Readings and Social Responsibility
I’ve always admired anyone who says that they want to create for the sake of creation. But, I have never been able to define my wants without justification. Though, as most anxieties go, we tend to be tougher on ourselves than we are on others. That’s something I’ve come to terms with. What I don’t like is not being able to find the right words to define myself or my work. This idea of having to explain exactly why and what I aim to communicate in my life has loomed over my head for at least a decade.
After years of introspection, gaining and shredding toxic hustle-culture mentality, and what I like to call the end of my own hero complex, an idea of what I actually aim to do finally came to me. My goal is to create stories in which the characters’ journeys do not revolve around their proximity to their oppression, but rather, oppressions play in interwoven side characters as they do in real life. This thought was partially inspired by my exhaustion from watching so many TV shows that came to air post-Covid-lockdown. Their season or mid-season premiere episodes displayed practically the same story.
The black character (typically the only one in the cast*) gets held at gunpoint by a police officer. When tensions with the authorities are cooled, the black character gives their white counterpart the typical “you don’t know what it’s like” speech, the white counterpart apologizes for their ignorance and promises to do better. And that’s the episode. That’s it. The monotony is almost insulting at this point. Of course, while I completely recognize networks and their aims to stay relevant to the murders of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor last summer, I have failed to see the scripts that tackle race and its intersections outside of police brutality or hate crimes. I try not to question how networks have rationalized and justified repeatedly black audience members are made to rewatch a real, potential trauma on a loop from these shows and news networks to possibly educate or soothe the complacency guilt of non-black audiences. While drama is usually intriguing when it is large, flashy, and gutwrenching, it caused me to think about real stories of racism that I’ve heard about from friends and family members or have experienced myself.
It’s rarely the big things, but instead, like quiet stabs to the gut that fail to bleed, whether they be situations when a waiter at a nice restaurant pivots their conversations more toward a white dinner guest over yourself, internalized preferences within the community that can ruin a romantic crush, or a classmate telling a black student that she’s “so well-spoken” (this is called a microaggression, and yes, it happened in an actual class I was in last spring). It’s the everyday experiences that fail to make it to screen that could make a world of difference in representation in film and tv, rather than filling quotas in calls for diversity.
Unexpectedly, this brings me to reading tarot, which I can only describe as my own Covid Lockdown equivalent to learning to make sourdough. If you know, you know. Tarot reading turned into a spark for an idea to write a screenplay about black witches and now, that feature is in editing in preparation for graduate school and fellowship applications. Today, while hovering over a sentence and trying to decide if it had too many adjectives in it (it did), I wondered if I was playing this all the right way. I’d written a screenplay about teenage black witches in the South that struggled with southern traditions while trying to make their own mark on the world through their passion that wouldn’t exactly be acceptable in their Christian family. This is where the overthinking begins. I make tabs on what scenes pass both the Bechdel test and the DuVernay test. Is it right to expect audiences to understand the nuances of generational trauma in the script? Could I be overstating my goal to include the differences in the main two characters’ appearances to illuminate colorism in the black community? Is it fair to be concerned about a character’s digestibility to an audience when I, myself, try to constantly break down internalized judgments and expectations that I’ve projected onto others? Mostly, throughout my time writing, I wonder if I’m doing a disservice by not constantly being blatant about race relations, especially when there are so many perspectives, misconceptions, and miseducations surrounding the topic and its intersections with sexuality, gender, and topics such as economics, education, and environmental factors. It’s enough to drive someone crazy or quit altogether, I know. But, I figure that I’m already crazy and quitting just isn’t in the cards for me.
It all leads me to wonder if, instead of judgment toward the prosaic, oversimplified projection that blackness in America dwindles down to police brutality and AAVE at family cookouts, if I can just somehow accept that has just become the easiest storyline to write and the fastest to produce.
This all builds to checking my horoscope, which is possibly the most controversial topic on this post. My tarot card of the day was the Page of Swords. Under it, a note that read: “You or someone is overthinking and making this way too hard. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one.”
I’ll be taking a break from that app for a bit.
*One show that I watched made this situation happen to every single black male character on their show. Most recently, two out of three of the characters in one episode.