By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I was going around Hollywood with the manuscript for my first novel, Stray Dogs, which would eventually get made into the runaway underachiever U-Turn. It was a story of evil women and stupid men and what happens when their kind mix it up in the desert.
Sex and murder is what happens.
Anyway, studio types were starting to dig my take on the world, and I was getting people besides the guys at the copy shop to read my work. My then-agents landed me a meeting with some fringe producer guy. I walked in the door.
An Idiot Beat later . . .
The fringe producer guy was going on and on and on some more about how he couldn’t believe a black guy wrote this manuscript and it just didn’t seem like what black people write and he never would have guessed I was black and how he’d have thought if a black guy had written something it’d be something more black . . .
Maybe I should’ve gone out with The Unbearable Lightness of Being a High Yellow.
I wrote what I liked. I didn’t know there was a standard “black” manuscript I’d diverted from. Apparently, unknown to myself, I was trying to break out of the mold they’d put us in, and that had Hollywood flummoxed.
For a good while, a version of that story was put on a continual loop in my life: Get the manuscript out, get the meeting, get the Idiot Beat. And when you got that, you got a harsh reminder that hit like a slap in the face from a hand with a brick: As if it wasn’t hard enough getting work as a writer, there was that other, extra thing you had to contend with: “He’s black?”
Yeah. I’m black.
Now people know that. Over the last six years, I’ve been good enough — or lucky enough, or some cocktail of the two — to get enough novels published and episodes of TV produced and movies made that the D-girls right on up to the studio slicks who’ve got their fingers on the green-light button know before they even call my 10-percenters offering me work: “He’s black.”
Not that I don’t still have my queerly true moments of Showbizery. One time, this suit pitched me a movie about some black guys in the Navy — Navy janitors, he told me with a straight face — who steal a submarine. He insisted the movie be called Das Booty.
But on the plus side, my stature allows me subversion. When I turn in the rewrites the studios overpay me for, characters who were once nondescript are suddenly, quietly — in my best Toohey-istic fashion — characters of color.
Is it much?
Is it something?
The fact that I’m in a position to do anything at all, the fact that I no longer have to deal with the Idiot Beat, is something of a minimiracle owed mostly to the fact that I’m not black anymore.
I’m sorta not.
At a certain point — for Eddie and Will, for Lee and Singleton, and, in a different way, on a smaller scale, for guys like me, black = green, green being money, and that’s all that matters. Well, in a perfect world where people were so greed-driven they didn’t care what color you were, that’s all that would matter. We don’t live in a perfect world. We live in Hollywood. I’d like to think the Idiot Beat isn’t out there anymore. Unfortunately, I know the idiots are.
In addition to writing the original screenplays for Three Kings andU-Turn, John Ridley is the author of the novelsEverybody Smokes in Hell andLove Is a Racket, as well as a writer and supervising producer of the NBC seriesThird Watch and a regular commentator on National Public Radio.