Diversity in film writing: a few thoughts

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The world of film writing feels a little more diverse than it was a decade ago – but there’s still a fair way yet to go, and we just wanted a chat about it.

Like many of you, I woke up last Saturday morning to the shocking, cruel news that Chadwick Boseman had lost his life. He was given 43 years on the planet, and I think few of us would argue he didn’t maximise them. Conversely, he had an awful lot more to give.

In the aftermath of his passing, what was lovely to see was the outpouring of love and affection for his work. But also, in the way his death was being reported. Thankfully, the majority of outlets – at least the ones I saw – were avoiding clickbait and looking to profit from his tragic loss. Instead, a whole host of considered, wonderful pieces sprung up, penned by people who clearly had a lot of affection for Boseman and his work.

What was also pleasing was that Black writers were being sought and afforded the opportunity to write those pieces. Not exclusively of course, but many outlets have made significant progress in terms of opportunity and the diversity of their writing staff. The material that’s come out of those moves has been varied and interesting, and it’s been exciting to see new voices be afforded a platform. Long may that continue.

I do want to touch on one factor, though, with a  suggestion that there’s a lot more that outlets – Film Stories included – can do.

When a major piece of news lands involving Black cinema, or a Black movie star, outlets are now keen to find a Black voice – and rightfully so – to comment on it. Last year for instance, the film Blue Story made headlines (for unfair reasons), and it was terrific to see writers such as Amon Warmann being asked to comment and respond both on air and in print. It’s not that a middle-aged balding white man with a wonky eye (me) didn’t have a view on it all, but there were and are people far better placed to comment. I can’t pretend to have first hand knowledge of the culture around the film, and I’d far rather read something authentic from someone who has than my filling in of the blanks. That’s going to make a much more interesting piece for the reader/viewer in my humble view. I don’t think certain subjects should be absolute ringfenced, to be clear, I just think it’s to everyone’s benefit really that the right author is found for the right story.

A decade ago, I don’t think outlets were fighting as hard to find more representative voices for particular stories. I hugely commend those that have.

But now what?

My concern about the broadening out of film writing, about the opening up of opportunities, is that it can’t stop after a story arises, and that it can’t be specific to certain stories either. I spoke to one prominent female film critic and she told me that for a long time, she always got all the family films and romcoms to review, when actually, she adores sci-fi. I’ve spoken to an upcoming Black writer whose range of taste is fantastic, but they tend to only get commissioned to write about Black cinema.

It doesn’t have to be like this. When the clearly-going-to-be-brilliant Gerard Butler-headlined Greenland eventually lands, and when Tom Cruise takes to the skies in Top Gun 2, and when Tom Hardy goes nuts again in Venom 2, those are the opportunities too that need to be accessible. That writers from all backgrounds feel they are able to pitch for work writing about those, and get a fair shot at getting it.

Of course it’s not that simple. And of course, what’s the point of editing a site if you can’t nab the stuff you really want to cover for yourself (you can cancel that Greenland pitch email you were about to write, chums). But also, the drawbridge of opportunity needs to be permanently lowered for the benefit of film discourse, and not just when a tragedy happens or a particular story breaks.

Bringing this to the putting my money where my mouth is bit. I launched Film Stories magazines with opportunity in mind, and I’ve been fortunate that so many wonderful people have pitched work in my direction. But also, I’ve learned that there are people who won’t. Who don’t feel this is for them. Who don’t feel that the world of writing is accessible for them. I’ve realised that sometimes, an outlet has to find those people, because otherwise, they may never – for whatever reason – believe that their talent has a sporting chance.

I’m determined, therefore, to do that, for as long as I’m still going.

Thus, I want to ask you fine people this: if there’s a brilliant blog you’ve found, or a writer whose work you believe deserves a platform and can’t get one, please let me know. My Twitter DMs are open (@simonbrew). I’m hopelessly slow at replying to everything. But I do get there. Likewise, irrespective of background, if you’re struggling to think what I may want for the magazines but know in your heart of hearts you’ve something to say, drop me a line.

I also don’t have all the answers, and I know I’m just scratching the surface here. I’m happy to take any questions, thoughts and ideas in the comments.

I’ll do what I can. Not just because I believe opportunity should be universal but – selfishly – I know it’ll make the publications I put out better.

You all take care of yourselves. Let’s hope 2020 has no more horrible things to bring us.


Image: BigStock


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