On ‘Woke Culture’

Hardly a week goes by without some (white) guy lamenting some version of the ‘death of storytelling’. Recently it was film director Todd Phillips’ turn, saying ‘Woke Culture’ is Killing Comedy Movies.

Another director, Adam Hertz also chimed in on this saying American Pie wouldn’t get made today. (His position was slightly more nuanced than Phillips’ however, ultimately conceding that’s ‘probably a good thing’.)

This is the cruncher though: TIMES CHANGE. This is how the industry works. It is not ‘woke’, it’s just good business sense. What is popular in one decade, is not in another. What’s more, audiences are becoming more media literate. This means they are breaking down their consumer preferences in more nuanced ways all the time.

Regardless of ‘woke culture’ as Phillips calls it then, he still would have had to change his approach to stay relevant. All creatives need to do this. Comedy that ‘punches down’ at marginalised people as standard is no longer considered funny, or skilful storytelling.

Besides, the likes of Phillips are forgetting one teeny-tiny thing, summed up brilliantly in this tweet by movie critic @DrewMcWeeny:

Compassionate Comedy

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Comedy – and storytelling in general – is no different. Audiences have made it clear what they want … Some call ie ‘compassionate comedy’ (not ‘woke culture’).

‘Compassionate comedy’ DOESN’T mean comedy can’t walk the line of propriety … Nor does it mean it can’t be gross-out, or risqué. It just has to remember not to punch marginalised people in the face for laughs as standard. (Frankly if comedy writers find this SO difficult to avoid, they probably shouldn’t be comedy writers).

Go Woke Yourself

Now let’s widen the conversation beyond comedy … The same people who make these mad proclamations about ‘the death of storytelling’ may also claim diversity is ‘political correctness gone mad’, or ‘box ticking’. This is no accident. These people like things done a certain way. When that way changes, they kick out.

It’s also no accident that a huge proportion of these people saying such things look the same. If it has not escaped your notice I started this article talking about (white) guys, that’s because a huge proportion of the complainants ARE white people and/or men. Unsurprisingly, white/men are dominant in the industry, too.

This is why the push for diversifying storytelling is so important. When we say ‘diversity’, what we really mean is VARIETY. We need more variety in …

  • Characters
  • Stories
  • Writers
  • Filmmakers & other roles

Not for politics, or brownie points, or for the ‘greater good’. Not because of ‘woke culture’. But because it’s WHAT THE AUDIENCE WANTS. Le duh!!

The Facts Speak For Themselves

So, ignore complaints about so-called ‘woke culture’ ruining your chances of writing what you want. This has never been the case.  Instead, concentrate on diversifying your stories, do your research properly and ensure you don’t ‘punch down’ in your writing. Here’s the facts …

  • Our target audiences actively want more diversity as standard. Audiences have voted with their wallets. We need to ensure they keep doing so, by giving them that variety they crave.
  • There’s opportunity here for more variety, authenticity and empathy in storytelling. People are bored with ‘the same-old, same-old.’ They want to see events, people, worlds and issues they recognise yet don’t often see in stories reflected back at them. They will pay money for this too. This means you can grab money moguls’ interest, too. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  • Whether we like it or not, the industry follows the money. Money moguls want to make money; it’s not rocket science. So if we don’t want diversity to become a ‘trend’, we need to ensure we throw our support behind a variety of characters, stories, writers and filmmakers.
  • Highjacking others’ stories is not the done thing. Never just ‘lift’ others’ stories, experiences, etc wholesale and write them as your own. This is stealing, aka cultural appropriation.
  • Dominant voices need to amplify the marginalised’s. If you are white, that doesn’t mean it’s been ‘easy’ for you … It just means being white did not stand in your way. So quit whinging you’re being ‘excluded’, or that stuff like ‘woke culture’ is ruining your chances … Instead, why not identify and help ANY marginalised writer you can? When relationships are everything in this biz, your philanthropy will help you long term too.
  • This is NOT the ‘death of storytelling’ – it’s actually the very opposite. Those that proclaim diversity is the problem are dinosaurs. Dinosaurs go extinct.

The infographic below is made by Venngage and brings forth the facts above. It also draws attention to various studies on the impact of diversity in storytelling. Look the studies up in detail, educate yourself on how VARIETY can make you a better storyteller.

Good Luck!

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