As an Asian Australian, I think of hope and joy and celebration and laughter as acts of political resistance. Particularly if you are a member of a community that is described as being a problem, or negative, or without hope, if you can demonstrate you’re actually a set of people who make stories and challenge those perceptions, that’s powerful. It is really an act of political resistance to experience joy, make music, play, write poetry. All of those things are the inexpressible resistance of spirit. You must do that too in your work as a writer for television and for film. What is the power of those mediums for you?
I’d say the power is, and I never really consciously thought about it until I started Good Black News, the power is political and social. It really is. The show I worked on called “Single Ladies” which was about women in their thirties in beautiful clothes running around trying to find a man, that was the surface, but deeper than that was, “What are the stories we could tell about friendship, what are the stories we could tell about love, what are the stories we could tell about betrayal, what are the stories we could tell about sexism?” We thought a lot more consciously about the kind of stories we were trying to tell. And it triggered in me, not that I haven’t always thought about these things, but often times when you’re learning writing, you’re young, you’re coming up, you’re learning a lot about a lot. Structure, production, all these things. And you’re not necessarily thinking as deeply about content as I am today. And to me the opportunity to explore something revolutionary in a context that people are going to just be completely receptive to because it’s a familiar form, is so exciting. Because they see an actor that they like, they see a genre that they like—romantic comedy, action—and then you start putting stuff in there to make them think or that you think is worth thinking about, or that you want to explore.
And if you hit the mark, you open doors for people that they didn’t necessarily know they needed to open, or that were even there. When people read an article in the New Yorker or New York Times or the Atlantic, they know they’re getting ready to get information and facts, and if they have a very gifted writer they’ll be touched as they’re reading it. But people are reading for information, when they read that stuff. When people sit down in front of their television or they pay money for a film, they’re going there to be entertained. And so they’re so much more receptive to what they’re getting ready to experience. Because they’re not in their heads. They’re there to have an experience. It’s like this nice little sideway into people’s minds. And when you write and start making characters talk to each other and put them in situations, all of a sudden it’s exciting. It’s excruciating and exciting.
I wanted to ask about Hidden Figures, the film you’re working on, which looks amazing!
Yes it’s been a complete privilege to work on. I did a production polish on it and it is amazing. The timing couldn’t be better for this movie, I’m telling you. And my experience, even though I was only involved with it for a short period of time, was life-changing for me because what I had to offer was exactly who I am and what my experiences have been. Like, the way Hollywood works is obviously very different from running your own website and there’s a lot of people you have to please. There’s a lot less creative control unless you’re at a certain level. When you’re hired, you’re for hire, and literally, you’re given a set of notes and you’re expected to execute the notes. And hopefully satisfy the producers and executives. But the trick is to take those notes, even the ones that aren’t necessarily so great and find a way to address them while keeping the integrity of the story. So that can be so amazing and satisfying as well, it just doesn’t come daily. Anybody who’s worked in this industry knows that, like, those moments of “grace” as you say, they’re few and far between. But when they do happen, they’re like on eleven. They’re amazing. There’s no other feeling. So I would say for the long view that writing is more satisfying. But for daily, Good Black News is more satisfying!
When you talk about the Hollywood moment, I felt like your involvement in Hidden Figures was almost like a Hollywood moment in and of itself. As a Harvard-educated black woman you must have had that same experience as the characters, pulled over by the police and the police ask where they work, and they’re like, “We work at NASA!” It’s clear that moment of registered shock on the policeman’s face is an incident experienced by many black people who are trying to just live their lives. The characters are completely aligning with what Good Black News is doing. It’s a bit of a perfect storm!
Yeah! It’s pretty great. And there’s something I’m not talking about because it’s not finalised yet. But there’s another project that came out of that experience with a lot of the same people. I get to write it wholly and solely by myself and a lot of it is pretty much on theme of what you were saying. And that’s all I can say.
[Laughs]. That’s our scoop!
[Laughs]. When I got sent the Hidden Figures script to do this production re-write, it reminded me of the time when I was a Vice President at Fox. I was sitting in the president’s office and a producer came in, assumed I was an assistant, and asked me to get his coffee. That kind of thing happened to me all the time. And this blew the mind of the people I was talking to, the executives who were on Hidden Figures. And I’m like, “Oh don’t let me start talking about all the stuff that happened when I was an executive, who I was mistaken for, how I was disrespected, how somebody wanted to talk to my boss and not to me and wouldn’t take my call. This [points to her skin] hides you for some reason from people thinking that you have a brain or intelligence.
And it goes the other way where people are so shocked, they’re like, “You’re so articulate! You’re so special! You’re extra! You’re not like a regular black person!” And I say, “Oh I beg to disagree. Clearly you don’t know many black people because I’m pretty regular.” Intelligence is everywhere! It’s across every race, every sex! So