There is an uneven balance in nearly every industry when it comes to people from marginalised backgrounds. Whether it’s actors, behind the scenes (directors, producers, design), writers or any other role, the disproportion is so stark. As I’m seeing these conversations playing out more in the British public eye, although still not hyper-visible, it becomes both a sub-conscious and conscious thought process when you’re creating. I would be of the opinion that a story with a centre around a member of a marginalised group should come from a member of that group, until such time the playing field is even and opportunities are proportionate. Whether this will ever happen is a different story. At the very least, you’ve given massive thought as to why you’re the one writing that story, and have a team around you of members from that group to advise and collaborate with.
There is a political and sub-conscious responsibility that must be acknowledged, whether the artist wants to or not. Every artist is free to create whatever they want, in whatever tone they wish to. However, when it comes to marginalised groups, subconscious lenses will always come into play. It is inescapable, which is where my opinion stems from. As a black mixed-raced woman, if I write a piece, whether it is about identity or not, there will always be mention of this, whether it relates to the work or not. Society’s need to compartmentalise art and material won’t have it any other way. I cannot write anything, even pieces about completely white families (hypothetically), without a mention or not to me subverting racial connotations in some way. If I, and other people like me, (or any member of a marginalised group) cannot write without freedom from these lenses, then I feel these are our stories to tell until those lenses are lifted. Until the playing field is equal. If it ever is.
We’ve seen these examples in the history of horror. Two that stick out to me are Tony Todd’s role in Candyman and Duane Jones’ role in Night of the Living Dead. Both iconic films, the two men were literally the best people to walk through the audition door. The castings were black-lead specific. However, the films have taken on various, valid racial connotations from statements on the Civil Rights Movement, white and black inter-relationships and desire of whiteness, and other theories that fit the connotations of the final film. But, if these films would have had white leads, these conversations would be a lot different.
It’s inescapable. As much as we would love this freedom, our identities are not separated from our work. Our work is not stand-alone. It is linked to our identities at all times.
Sammy Willbourne is a horror film and theatre maker from Nottingham, UK. She is the owner of her own horror company SLASH Arts Company which is in its first year, specialising in horror film, theatre and art projects.