Saturday, January 14, 2006
On Double Consciousness
by W. E. B. DuBois
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,--this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. ...
Excerpted from the chapter "Of Our Spiritual Strivings" in his book The Souls of Black Folk.
One of the dilemmas of being an African American screenwriting film student is figuring out what you want to write. Now why is that different than any other film student of any race you ask? Well, I think it's different because I think there's an expectation that you will concentrate your writing on African American subjects. That's pretty natural. I am African American and I do have a ton of script ideas that are African American themed. But...
Screenwriting is a business. No, kill that. Screenwriting is BIG business. And while there are those who will like to sing KUMBAYA and say that only the story and script counts, I learned in Terry Press' class (Director of Marketing at Dreamworks) that while that counts, so do a bunch of other more practical issues.
African American films don't sell internationally, so they don't get bought often. When I met with an agent friend at Paradigm, he told me the same thing, but also said that if I brought an African American script to him, he would be able to send it to about two companies versus twenty five. When I talked to my friends at William Morris and Endeavor, they said exactly the same thing. So what is a brother to do? Do you turn your back on writing African American subjects? Of course not. But I have to be smart.
When writing my books, I thought that since I was a published author, I would have the freedom to write outside of the African American genre. Easier said than done. It's a Catch 22 situation. You get published time after time because you've built a loyal African American readership. So to your publisher (and agent) the idea of blazing new trails outside of the African American is not that appetizing. So you write on African American topics. Is that bad? No. Is it limiting. Yes.
My interests are not all African American specific interests. My ideas are not all centered around African American life. That doesn't make me any less African American as the writer who only writes African American scripts. So why the hell am I talking about this?
At UCLA, there are going to be scripts that I write that will have African American themes, and others that won't. For example, my Sloan script is an African American period piece. However, the scenes I'm working on for Fred Rubin's Comedy Class will be for a predominately white themed script. When I eventually bring both scripts to agents this Spring, I want to be able to demonstrate that I can not only write for the African American audience, but the broader audience. That's a part of the double consciousness that African Americans have to think about, whether they write scripts or work on Wall Street.