Pity the modern screenwriter.
He or she opens a laptop, fires up a new Word document and takes a long, slow breath.
“How do I write a story that doesn’t trigger a Cancel Culture attack? What if my characters aren’t woke enough? Am I addressing systemic racism in my narrative? Will I ever work again if I anger the wrong people?”
Sound dramatic? Think again.
- The scribes behind “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” admit they scrapped existing scripts because they didn’t fit into the Black Lives Matter world. “We have to start over. Right now we don’t know which direction it’s going to go in,” said show co-star Terry Crews, himself attacked for being critical of BLM.
- Time Magazine ran an article suggesting superhero films can no longer feature white heroes ignoring racial injustice.
- The co-creator of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” admits he has a staff of young, presumably woke Millennials overseeing story creation to “show me what’s not only funny but what’s relevant, what’s changing, how is it changing, and how can we continue to be on the cutting edge …” Remember how well that worked for “Neighbors 2?”
These are three anecdotes. Think bigger.
We’re already told Hollywood should think twice about telling more police stories. Stories that show heroic cops, a staple of TV and films for decades, are now problematic, or worse. Heck, “Paw Patrol” narrowly escaped cultural cancellation.
Delicate satire, the kind that might feature characters covered in mud masks, is no longer permissible. Can you imagine a comedian whose name isn’t “Chappelle” telling hard but funny truths about race in a Netflix special? Even Dave himself might get cancelled if he yukked it up about Black Lives Matter in a way that clashes with the hard-left narrative.
The timing, alas simply couldn’t be worse.
For starters, the movie-going experience is on a delayed pause due to the pandemic. Who knows when it will return to full strength?
Crowds may flock to see James Bond and Black Widow again, but not every film boasts a must-see component.
Audiences are preternaturally opposed to woke storytelling, witness sizable flops like “Charlie’s Angels,” “Ghostbusters” and “Late Night.” Doubling down on Guilt Cinema is a recipe for financial ruin.
More importantly, we’ve been awash in a golden age of TV content. Theatrical releases remain inconsistent, with a heavy emphasis on loud, IP-driven fare. Last year proved a notable difference, given a crush of quality stories including “Joker,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “Jojo Rabbit.”
It’s on the small screen where the greatest creative progress has been made. For now.
To list all the superlative shows streaming into our homes is too tall a task. What’s more remarkable is the eclectic platforms providing them. HBO. Netflix. Hulu. Syfy. Showtime. AMC. Amazon Prime. Paramount Network. You could spend every waking hour watching the best new shows around and still not keep up with the dynamic flow.
Will that change moving forward? Productions remain mostly on hold due to the pandemic, but screenwriters are working feverishly to prepare for the grand re-opening.
What stories will they tell? What narratives will they be permitted to share?
Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences threatens to upend the organic storytelling process. The Academy is finalizing new rules mean to address diversity issues for Oscar-bait films. Think that won’t have an impact on the stories to be told?
There is an upside to the current cultural revolution. We will get to know artists, primarily people of color, who might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Hollywood has had a diversity problem for some time, one not miraculously solved by sharing black squares on Instagram.
Perhaps another Jordan Peele, Issa Rae or Donald Glover will emerge -- young, exciting talents whose work both challenges and entertains.
What a shame the downsides could greatly overshadow that progress.