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  • Inner Voice Artists

Should Screenwriters Work with Sensitivity Readers?

By Veronica Letourneau

July 11th, 2022

Photo: Variety- Source

It’s not a secret that most of the screenwriters given opportunities in the film and TV industry have been white. While there’s been a push to greenlight writers from more diverse backgrounds, there’s still ways to go. This is not to say that we should not greenlight projects from white writers who create good stories, but rather it’s that white writers do naturally have their own limitations. As we’re now finally beginning to see more stories that have a more diverse cast of characters, from different cultures and backgrounds, there has been a push to higher “sensitivity readers.”

Sensitivity readers, different from those who are strictly advisors, are individuals from minority groups, who are hired to edit works from novels or film and TV scripts to ensure that there’s nothing in the writing which could offend or potentially be harmful to those groups. With many productions making an effort to be more socially aware in their writing, they have turned to “sensitivity readers” for assistance. However, some could argue that there might sometimes be flaws to this as well.

Sensitivity editors could sometimes make suggestions, which might be viewed as too extreme, and thus lose the feel of the project making it flatter and less authentic. Characters that may have been flawed in the original script could be edited so much to the point that could weaken the characters’ development thus making them less deep and interesting. However, regardless of all this there should still be a push to make art that is more sensitive and authentic to non-white characters.

Hence, what’s the balanced solution?

Denzel Washington was asked, during a Sirius XM interview, “Why did he need a black director?” And in his reply, he made a very valid point:, “It’s not color, it’s culture.” He further explains this by saying “Steven Spielberg did ‘Schindler’s List,’ Martin Scorsese did ‘Goodfellas,” right. Steven Spielberg could direct ‘Goodfellas;’ Martin Scorsese probably could have done a good job on ‘Schindler’s List,’ but there are cultural differences. I know, you know, we all know what it is when a hot comb hits your head on a Sunday morning, what it smells like. That’s a cultural difference, not just a color difference.

While sensitivity readers can be helpful, it doesn’t provide a complete solution. And believing it does, is a cop-out and cheat. It's including people from those cultures and backgrounds to be on the writing team that would be the solution. If there are several characters who are black, then the authentic thing to do should be to have a black writer working on the project. If the film has parts in China, or is set in China, then having Chinese writers working on it should be perceived as the proper course of action. This allows people of minority groups to have their voices and stories heard. This will also only help make the films and TV shows more detailed and rich, as those writers would speak best to their own cultures. Ultimately, sensitivity readers can provide a temporary bandage for those writers writing outside of their own cultures. But at the end of day, writers from those cultures will always have a much better understanding of it and thus bring more to the project.


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