I used to be in a collective of artists whose mantra is to make movies. I spent four years among them to gain experience as an actor, having spent many years as a network TV writer. The reasons I left encompass numerous factors, chiefly a growing disrespect for a slew of viewpoints expressed after script readings and Facebook discussions.
Lest this appear to be a personal rant, it's really about society jumping on the bandwagon of politically correct thought, unwilling to abide challenges to people who've expressed objections, even after a presentation of facts.
Too often, people are fixed in their own mindset, myself included, but when presented with contrary evidence I'll admit I was wrong, as opposed to many who simply say "I hear what you've said and see the facts, but.....," which tells me they haven't heard anything at all.
If you have differences about taste, that's tough to deny. The other person isn't wrong. Yes, we don't know why they don't like something, but an inner feeling isn't something that can be disputed. I hate liver; others love it. Who am I to say they're wrong to love liver?
However, if you have an opinion which impugns, even gently, that a writer wrote something offensive, in this case designating black characters with names deriving from Africa, and it is later proven such names are ubiquitous in our culture, and you still maintain the names are stereotypical and shouldn't be used, then I believe your belief may be challenged.
A work was written (not by me) about the continuing adventures in a planned web series of two clueless white men and their pursuits to get laid. In one episode, the men seek help from their cool African-American friend Darence and unexpectedly go to a bar mostly frequented by Blacks. Left to their own, Eric and Kevin are in unfamiliar territory and attempt to score with two African-American women named Ja'nae and Latrice. The result is an outpouring of racial stereotypes made funny by the unwitting men and the reaction of the women, who we learn are smart and well-educated.
You don't need to know more, except that among very complimentary notes a few attendees made remarks about stuff that offended them, comments, frankly, I found offensive.
The first was by a very intelligent and articulate black man, one of the only Writers Guild Members in the group (besides myself). He started the ruckus, suggesting the women's names were stereotypic and insulting and was soon joined by a few white folks, both men and women.
I did research and wrote on the group's Facebook page, "While people certainly have the right to his/her opinion at readings, if they unfairly characterize a writer's indelicateness and are not reflective of reality today, they should be addressed." In particular when it implies prejudice about the writer that isn't founded.
I listed many black actresses and personalities who have such names, indicating there are many more, plus those used by black men. 1. Aisha Tyler (TV host) 2. Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away With Murder) 3. Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, Bates Motel) 4. Aunjanue Ellis (Quantico) 5. Aziza Young (Hell's Kitchen) 6. Beyoncé (singer) 7. Chandra Wilson (Grey's Anatomy) 8. Ciara Renee (Legends of Tomorrow) 9. Da'vonne Rogers (Big Brother) 10. Ebonee Noel (Still Star-Crossed) 11. Emayatze Corinealdi (Roots, Hand of God) 12. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious, Empire) 13. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Free State of Jones) 14. Jada Pinkett-Smith (Gotham) 15. Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) 16. Janelle Monae (singer) 17. Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Underground, True Blood) 18. Keesha Sharp (Lethal Weapon) 19. Keke Palmer (Scream Queens) 20. Keshia Knight Pullam (Cosby Show) 21. Lashana Lynch (Still Star-Crossed) 22. Lonette McKee (The Game, Third Watch) 23. Marsai Martin (Black-ish) 24. Mekia Cox (Secrets and Lies, Chicago Med) 25. Merrin Dungey (Conviction) 26. Mo'Ni que (Precious) 27. Naturi Naughton (Power) 28. Oprah Winfrey (TV Host) 29. Omarosa Manigault (The Apprentice) 30. Patina Miller (Madame Secretary) 31. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) 32. Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) 33. Rihanna (singer) 34. Sanaa Lathan (Family Guy) 35. Sarayu Blue (The Real O'Neals) 36. Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live) 37. Selita Ebanks (Model) 38. Sepideh Moafi (Notorious) 39. Serayah McNeill (Empire) 40. Taraji P. Henson (Empire) 41. Ta'Rhonda Jones (Empire) 42. Tatyana Ali (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) 43. Tempestt Bledsoe (Cosby Show) 44. Thandie Newton (Westworld) 45. Tika Sumpter (The Haves and the Have Nots) 46. Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) 47. Vella Lovell (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) 48. Yara Shahidi (Black-ish) 49. Yaya Dacosta (Chicago Med) 50. Zakiyah Everette (Big Brother) 51. Zuleikha Robinson (Still Star-Crossed, The Following)
To this I received only a few "likes" and one response: "I understand where you are coming from, but it would be one thing if it is written by an African American writer. It does come off differently when coming from someone outside the culture."
To that I responded sharply, reminding that a writer's duty is to observe and tell the truth, and that the existence of this large but only partial list would lead reasonable people to believe the usage of these names by any writer, white, black or whatever background, would be a legitimate representation of society as it is, and not a denigration of a cultural group. That she was inadvertently comparing the use of such names to the supposedly accepted sensibility that it was okay for a black guy to use the "N" word, but not those of other ethnic groups.
Two days later, another group member wrote a long post, where he said it was wrong to question any person's opinion, though oddly he was doing the same to me. Even stranger, he admitted the names were "immaterial" to him, then switched to why he was uncomfortable with the reading. That with all the sexual violence today, the pursuit by these men, however silly and idiotic, might be supportive of horrible happenstance in society and he was bothered they emerged unscathed. In this case, he expressed displeasure to which I wouldn't object, though he'd deflected from what actually happened in the piece, as their actions were comically rude but not physical and, after all, they went home without a date!
Shortly, he received a flood of praise, with only one dissent. I resent such sheep mentality, which often applauds kumbaya safe comments. There'd been no support for my fact-based post criticizing overly sensitive, uninformed, and thus misplaced, distaste for a work mirroring something commonplace in our society.
Commonplace in a desired way, in that African-Americans decided to call babies these names. Look around. In schoolyards, the workplace and your neighborhood. Much of this started after the 1977 broadcast of Roots, and it was the protesters' obliviousness to which I objected. Imagine I met some women listed above at an industry function or on set and then wrote a script using such first names as indicative of current reality. Would I be subject to reproach for giving characters names these people presumably were proud of and which were plastered on TV credits and movie billboards around the nation?
I wondered if there might be reverse "racism" or "intolerance" demonstrated, in this case coming from black folks such as the writer earlier mentioned who has an Anglo name. Perhaps he finds African monikers odd or weird, thus prone to contributing to prejudice, and his view was shared by "sensitive" whites chiming in their agreement.
Some of you may remember All in the Family, a groundbreaking CBS TV series where the lead character Archie Bunker regularly spouted racist, anti-Semitic comments. Never the "N" word or "kike," but he used "colored" and "Hebe" to make it more acceptable to broadcast standards. However, all this made it obvious that, however lovable Archie was in certain ways, he was an idiot. He was always confronted by more successful black folks like George Jefferson, a character later featured in another series. Or Archie's famous confrontation with Sammy Davis, Jr.
When you write stuff like that, it makes a point. The white guys were demonstrating ill-conceived manners and were made to appear as morons. The black girls with the "stereotypical" African-American names were the smart ones. What was the message then to an intelligent audience? We shouldn't have stereotypes, we should behave better among all groups. If the writer had called a woman Jemima or a man Sambo and had them all doing jive talk, with professions such as janitors or prostitutes, instead of one of them going for her Master's Degree, then the complainers would have had a legitimate point. As it was, to my mind and based upon facts, they did not. That the members showed such shallowness made me realize I had no place in such a group.
Finally, imagine as in the film Denial, if someone wrote a piece about the Holocaust and somebody commented that he was offended because he KNEW the Holocaust was a fraud and that he was offended by the portrayal of Germans. It's hard to believe anyone would be upset by a challenge to this notion.
Obviously, this is more extreme than the instance cited, but it demonstrates there's room for criticism of a critic and I am proud to have done so.