Monday, July 15, 2024

Storytelling And Its Power to Fight Racial Injustice

Growing up, the day at school that always made me the most nervous was “Show and Tell Day”. Why? Because I didn’t like talking in front of people, and I didn’t like sharing personal information about myself with a room full of people.

I dreaded the day for me, but was always interested in what my classmates would have to share. I always wondered how my classmates were different than me, outside of the fact that they didn’t look like me.

I always wondered: What would I learn about “So and So” today? What would surprise me? Make my face twitch up? Spark imaginative daydreams about who they are after the last school bell rings?

Storytelling as a Safe Place

Speaking of imagination, one of my favorite places to unleash it was through writing. As one of few Black girls at my school, my diary was my safe place to be, dream, and tell stories that poured from my heart and being. To put words together in ways so other people could feel them. Experience them. See them.

I also loved watching movies, especially when the people in them looked like me or reminded me of my mom or dad, brother and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other melanated people in my life.

Storytelling as a Mirror and Dream

In college, I found out that I could write movies as a career. I learned quickly that the major tip to write a good film is to focus on the showing and not the telling. The key is to make sure everything on the paper that translates to the screen enhances the story, from the set design to costume choices, props, locations and even what a character eats.

If we think of all the pieces of the puzzle that make a film, TV show or other entertainment work, then we’ll realize how aligned things must be to make it happen. How powerful it all truly is when a vision is brought to life.

For me, projects have even more impact when they have some aspect of “real life” in them. Especially when they reflect and comment on the world as it is, or depict what the world could be. Seeing Black people at the center of things is a welcome bonus.

Storytelling as Control

For too long, the film and television industry has moved as if Black people didn’t exist. As if we are mere figments of white people’s imaginations, some-thing to emulate, and not actual human beings.

From the Mammy to the Sapphire, the Buck and the Brute, Hollywood has always had something to show and tell about Black people that puts us in a negative light. It doesn’t help that we are barely portrayed at all, mostly based on stereotypes, and rarely fill roles behind the camera, if at all.

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Black Excellence, Shunned

When it comes to winning awards based on the excellence of our craft, we are ignored time and time again.

A few years ago, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite called out the Academy’s lack of diversity as far as the films and artists who are considered for and receive an Oscar. For a year or so, things looked like they were headed in the direction of diversity and inclusion. Then, they looked just like they have for almost a century. White, male and white.

Trying to Do Better

The Academy has established initiatives over the past couple of years to interrupt this habit, and one of these is Academy Dialogues, a series of virtual panels featuring conversations about: “Race, ethnicity, gender, history, opportunity and the art of filmmaking” including the “industry-wide systemic changes that are needed to afford greater opportunities to women and people from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities and to create a new narrative for recovery.”

In this video, Academy Governor Whoopi Goldberg hosts a conversation on how narrative storytelling is vital to address racial and ethnic inequity. From the need for Hollywood to acknowledge its role in creating and perpetuating harmful stereotypes to how those stereotypes impact our lives day to day, this talk is necessary for anyone who wants to create work that disrupts and shifts the narratives of marginalized people and groups.

The Stories We Tell Matter

The film and television content we engage with ultimately impacts the ways we relate to ourselves and each other. This is true, whether we want it to be, or not. Various research studies demonstrate the link between perceptions of groups and the points of view we form about others based on what we see in entertainment.

How do you think Hollywood can make sure it doesn’t tell stories that perpetuate stereotypes? How can independent storytellers, creators, filmmakers, writers, etc. do the same?

Photo Credit: Canva

Sharee Silerio
Sharee Silerio
Sharee Silerio is a screenwriter and filmmaker who tells stories where Black women and girls exist as full human beings on screen and feel seen, heard, loved and affirmed beyond the screen. Her film and television credits include projects on cable and streaming platforms such as Netflix, Oxygen, Comedy Central, MTV, Prime Video and more.

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