My recent blog post 3 Ways to Write a Riveting Bad Guy has gotten some great traffic and awesome comments. For that I would like to say thanks to all of my readers. It isn’t easy keeping a blog running with new material, especially if you don’t have the readership to keep you confident in your writing. But, you guys keep me going.
I had received a comment from a reader for my blog post 3 Ways to Write a Riveting Bad Guy that had said my comment about writing a bad guy like Walter White from Breaking Bad only works for whites. He said that my example of using an everyday man like Walter and turning him bad is a formula that wouldn’t work for blacks. He then went into the subject of how white characters are given more freedom to commit atrocious crimes such as Tony Soprano and Dexter. He called it the glorification of white crime, which is an interesting way of saying being a mastermind drug lord, a conflicted kingpin or a genius serial killer is a white thing.
The thing about his argument is that he is trying to consider reality as a reason why blacks are not portrayed as these characters in fiction. For one, how could a black person be like Tony Soprano when in real life the judicial system is racially biased toward them? Walter and Dexter would not get past the first few episodes of their shows if they were black men. The police would have been all over them for reason of suspicion since blacks are always considered criminals first and law abiding citizens last.
My thing is that I feel anyone can do anything; good or bad. For example, there have been black kingpins and black serial killers in real life. The real thing is that everyone gets caught eventually. However, there is no need to get into that side of the argument because the 3 reasons whiteness is preferred in fiction for complex bad guys have nothing to do with it.
Readership and Ratings (Importance)
Money makes the world go round. It is a small thing that we give so much weight to when it comes to the decisions we make. For example, a writer has a great story that will be about the antagonist, but he wants to make as much money as he can from it. So, he decides to make the antagonist a white man. Since he feels that stories in all forms of media always do better when they star whites. Yes, there are examples of blacks who are the star antagonists and the story is commercially successfully, but that is not a common factor and he doesn’t know if Denzel Washington can portray his villain, damn it. After all, he doesn’t consider the fact that blacks are not given as much opportunity to star in these roles or to be written into them. He just considers the current statistics, not what could be. Whites are considered more important than blacks to more people, so why risk writing a flop.
Every now and then you see the backlash from audiences when a character was expected to be white. Like the new Spiderman and the little black girl in The Hunger Games. When most writers, especially for TV and movies, do their craft, they typically write for whites because that is more likely to help their story become commercially successful. And you know, the same can be said about novelists if you think about it.
If you took Tony Soprano and dropped him off at a university, he wouldn’t make it. But if you took him and dropped him off at a casino, he would be running it in no time. He may not seem it upon appearance, but he is intelligent. Of course there is no need to persuade you into believing that Walter and Dexter are smart. After all, the more serious the crime the more intelligent the character has to be to keep getting away with it. Especially if it is really just him pulling it off or he has very few partners in crime.
Intelligence is something that most still feel whites have more of especially when comparing them to blacks. So having a black character as being so intelligent that he keeps getting away with it is something a lot of people just can’t believe.Can you imagine a black Hannibal Lecter? Could you write a black character like him? Or is the character just too smart to be black and too complex?
Simplicity vs Complexity
When black characters are bad guys in fiction they are typically two dimensional characters. Since blacks are not seen as complex people, but simple ones. For a lot of people it doesn’t matter how many blacks break racial barriers, they just don’t want to see them as equals. Especially when it comes to complexity.
Human beings are all complex. There is nothing simple about you or me. The reasons why we are who we are and the reasons why we do what we do are many and we are always conflicted. But, this seems to not cross over in to fiction for every race. Sure we can have all those things apply to white characters because that is what we feel about whites. But how about blacks? No. Complexity is a white thing.
Now there are always great examples of black antagonists who are complex, but it is far and few in between. I know it is odd for a black writer, such as myself, to be asking more writers to write blacks as bad guys, but that isn’t what I am really asking. I am asking to think of us as just as important, intelligent and complex as whites when writing your stories.