Tricks of the Writing Trades (1 of 5): Specific Ethnic Characters

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Writing Characters to Specific Ethnicity to Expand Your Audience

You may be noticing the expanding diversity of actors in movies. More African, Asian and Women actors are appearing on the silver screen every year. While a lot of this is in response to the cry for greater diversity in movies, which is great but a tad late, certain character diversity is governed by the Top Brass at the studios wanting to expand into burgeoning markets, such as China, now the world’s biggest film market.

To stay in focus, let’s concentrate on two bigger examples, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Rogue One. In Episode 7, you may have noticed some Asian pirates after Han, Rey, Finn and Chewie in that scene on the Millennium Falcon, who didn’t do much other than posture a non-threat. ‘So what?’, you say. Well, these damn talented Filipino actors are actually the stars of two of the best Martial Arts action movies of the past decade – The Raid 1 and 2. Thus, some of the audience or market was expecting more from them.

Quite recently, Rogue One enlisted Chinese Martial Arts and Action movie legends Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang to play the roles of a Kung Fu monk and his big-ass gun carrying comrade-in-arms to, well, fight and die. Sounds… err… kinda cool, right? Well, no. Not really. See…

wen
‘Die, You Imperial First Order Scum!’

…what I want you to take away from this is that these roles are developed and given to non-white actors in order to capture the attention of foreign audiences. Hell, it works to a certain extent, until it fails miserably because the characters don’t resonate, are hollow, don’t fulfil expectations, etcetera etcetera etcetera. In these two cases, the characters:

  • In Episode 7 – fail to serve the story (because the movie sucks)
  • In Rogue One – feel forced in (pun) to a hollow endeavour

For you screenwriters going for those big buck flicks, remember, if you’re writing in roles for foreign stars, make sure the actor gets to do what he or she is famous for – which is most likely kicking butt (especially nowadays). And the same goes for writers wanting to add some diversity to their own stories. Make sure the each character serves the story and not the backdrop or the needs of the powers that be.

348767-earthbound-snes-screenshot-an-obvious-beatles-reference
‘I swear! Show the sub, get the hipsters!’

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4 thoughts on “Tricks of the Writing Trades (1 of 5): Specific Ethnic Characters

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