The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Emotional Membranes

Today at 11am, we’ll have our next conference call with the studio making our movie. After that, another story meeting, probably face to face, with our producers (both very very smart ladies). And after that…T and I dive into the re-write on The script. Her novel deals with a black family moving back to an all-white town in the Northwest (curiously, T got her inspiration for this while we were living in Longview. Hmmm.) In writing the script, and dealing with the studio, I’m becoming aware of a casting issue.

It’s like this: the lead character, has a rather nasty husband. She also has a love interest who develops after the husband bails on her. Now, one thing any studio wants to do is recoup its investment. They want the film to play to the widest possible audience. This, of course, is why we were asked: “do the characters HAVE to be black?” This is in practical acknowledgement of that “5-10% disconnect” that I’ve talked about so much. Now, I’m seeing a casting situation that might very well develop: the husband will be cast black, and the love interest will be cast white. This sort of “color-blind casting” (it never really is. There are very specific types of roles that can be “color-blind” we all know which ones can’t.) could very easily happen if no one is watching. My own leverage isn’t great in this situation. I can easily see a situation where a black man is cast as the husband, and oh, Matthew McConaughey is cast as the love interest. And I can see the studio looking at me quite innocently (in the form of numerous execs) and accusing me of racism if I object. I think that my best defense is to point out the creative bankruptcy of the “evil black man, white guy gets the black woman” model. I’ve seen variations on it so often I’m tired of hearing my own voice on the subject, especially since it seems to be a lone voice in the wilderness.

Wow. Would I have the balls to risk the best chance I’ve ever had to get a movie made, based on a point of honor? And if I rolled over, would I really be doing it to be a “team player”? Or to maneuver myself into a stronger position for future gain? Or would it be simple cowardice and creative fatigue? I don’t know, but one of those interesting life tests might be right around the corner.
##
This has all been brought home a little more sharply with the release of the AOL “Top 25 love scenes” list. Before I looked at it, I predicted the following:
1) None of the males would be Asian or Black.
2) “Monster’s Ball” would be high on the list.

I was right, of course. There were a couple of Latino males on there. I tend to use a more sociological than anthropological approach to racial typing. The fact is that there are interestingly “exotic” types that don’t seem to push the “Other” button as hard as I’d think. On the surface, some of these are often considered “non-white” but in practical emotional reactions, they are clearly “whiter” than Asians or Blacks.

And the standard I use most often? Simple: do we see them in natural romantic/sexual interactions with white females, without the ethnicity being a gigantic factor, massive pain being anchored to the relationship, or the relationship leading to death for one of the partners.

Clearly, Latinos fit in this category. Desi Arnez and Lucy, anyone? Arabs fit. Danny Thomas or Omar Sharif? East Indians seem to be sliding in there as well. Examples of this are smaller and less blatant, but I suspect its there. Although the skin color can be dark, somehow it doesn’t trip the tripwires that a Chinese, Japanese, African, or African-American does.

Strange, and interesting.
##
I think that there are psychological “membranes” relating to certain kinds of change or evolution in our lives. For instance, someone with a serious weight issue carries 250 pounds. They can lose maybe 10-15 pounds of that before hitting a psychological “wall”—if they lose more, they are exposing themselves in some way, and will panic. I’ve simply known too many people who can lose about 10-15 pounds, then put it back on. They stay in this cycle, constantly (on the surface) satisfied by their “progress” and not “noticing” that they are in a loop.

The same thing would HAVE to be true in finances (you can earn 10-15% more, or clear up your finances to X degree, before you freak out and self-sabotage) and relationships. Harder to quantify here, but the most blatant thing I’ve seen is people who have massive wounds in their own psyche, but think that they are “more advanced” than their partners. It’s very human, and is in my mind, a revulsion for what they see in the emotional mirror.

I’ve seen this with smoking as well—people who are always “cutting down” and then backsliding and “cutting back” and so forth. And pretending not to see that the game is to SEEM as if progress is being made without actually getting anywhere.

Well, I’ve noticed this in myself. As I approach the 170 lb mark, I can feel that my subconscious is confused. It doesn’t recognize the guy in the mirror, who is looking really RIPPED these days. So…on Fasting days, by the evening I find it much easier to talk myself into, oh, just a little piece of salmon jerky. Which triggers Limbic Hunger, and leads to more eating. I KNOW this will happen, but the voices in my head talk me into that first bite anyway. Just one bite, they say. What’s the harm?

Man, that’s like a philandering husband saying: what’s the harm with one drink in her room? Or a thief saying: who’ll miss a single dollar?

It opens the door, folks.
##
Somehow, this ties into my friend (did we decide to call him Wally?) Wally is a child in an adult body. He has serious impulse control problems, and blames his actions on the external circumstances. “I was stressed because of my divorce” “she was so mature” “I was depressed.”

And here is where the rubber has to meet the road. Whether the true reality of Mankind is either nature or nurture is probably the wrong question. We’re really looking at a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors.

But one thing is certain: if someone consistently has a negative reaction to stimuli which does NOT trigger such a reaction in others, you have to look at this very carefully. It doesn’t matter that “in there somewhere” is a good person. In my mind, the safety of our children is paramount. The safety of our society is precious. A person who might, with infinite resources, be salvaged is a tragic case, because we don’t have infinite resources.

And where we spend our resources, and our time, is the best indication of our true values.

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