Who Is Your Protagonist?
And why is he a white guy between the ages of 24-45?
Fellow UCLA Screenwriter alums caught on to where I was going next in my Chick Flick Rant: Angelina Jolie’s role in SALT was written for a male, Tom Cruise to be specific. As was the part of Lieutenant Ripley in the ALIEN franchise, Jody Foster’s role in FLIGHT PLAN, Lucy Liu’s role in EKS VS. SEVER, and there are other examples.
It’s striking to me that Sigourney Weaver kicked ass in the original ALIEN in 1979 – I wish I could ALL CAP numbers- and this didn’t launch a plethora of new female protagonist roles? (Kudos to James Cameron for the iconic Sarah Connor.) Weaver reprised her role in 1986, 1992 and 1997. In 2010, we are still only marginally and with great exception “allowing” women to play strong action protagonists and heroes, and some of those roles are still won by stealing roles written for men.
I have a great variety of writer, actor and filmmaker peers, of differing ethnic backgrounds and physical ability and age. A handful of whom keep blogs, a running theme of which echoes my sentiments above, only fill in the blank with their particular angle: “Why aren’t more protagonist roles written for ________.” I agree.
In a screenplay, it is preferable NOT to indicate the race or physical ability/disability of a particular character when writing character description, unless it is integrated into the story (it comes into play specifically story-wise, where the event/plotline/action would not otherwise occur without the specific race/ability in question.) Screen Actors Guild promotes this practice, the thinking behind it being that visionary casting directors will/should call all types and ethnicities of actors to read for each role, unless otherwise stated. As well, writers providing such description unnecessarily contributes to out-dated thinking. Leave room for the part to be filled by someone interesting, new and unconventional.
Unfortunately, most casting directors are bound by the same antiquated ideas as many producers, etc., and unless otherwise stated, imagine, “WHITE MALE” when reading the protagonist’s part.
However, and this is not to dismiss or make light of their legitimate viewpoints and the arguments above: the one thing a screenwriter MUST provide on the page (with few exceptions) is the gender.
Writers gender their protagonist by naming them “Tom” “John” and “Mr. Whomever”, provide the age and that’s it. Unless integrated, we don’t need to know if they have a mustache, brown hair, are Chinese, or hard of hearing: the casting director will use their vision to provide the best actor for the role (in theory). BUT – the writer MUST gender! I argue this is where writer’s need to exercise a unique vision.
Artists are supposed to be forward-thinking, leading edge, non-conformists. Leave conformity to the Blue Suits*.