Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who has the right to write...

One of my scripts for the Radio NZ competition has a Maori family as the central characters. This has once again opened up that good old can of worms of who has the right to tell a story...

The story I wrote is not about race but it is about people. I orignally had different main characters but the story morphed and it was this family that I was drawn towards. This brings into question the appropriateness of whether or not it is ok for me to have a Maori family to tell the story, and if so how do I need to represent them.

There is a part of me that thinks 'I'm gay yet I write straight characters, I'm female yet many males inhabit the world of my scripts, I'm 31 yet my characters are 5 and 65' BUT is this just another colonial piece of crap that allows me to think I have permission to represent a culture I'm not part of? Is it ok for me to assume that because I am writing about people I know, family's I have been amongst, and most of all that I write about PEOPLE, and that I am 'creating', that I can assert grounds to do what I please?

I realise that this argument is not about my script, it is much bigger than that. But what difference does it make if I change the characters to pakeha? Would I have had the same conversation if my characters were Asian, or South African?

Do I really have the right to write the stories that come to me?

5 comments:

kōtiro said...

Tough question. I do think a story couldn't be told if you can't use characters that are not of your likeness.

pipi said...

Could you please elaborate on what you mean by 'opening up that good old can of worms?'

I am in complete awe of your work fnessm. So are alot of others obviously. Skills, pure skills.

Reading the first paragraph of your blog made me shriek and not want to read anymore. I think it's great you're questioning your colonial/white priveledge and that a bit of self search into why it was that you chose to write about a maori family in the context that you did would be hugely beneficial. (for you)

I do also believe that there is a real punch in this 'opening up good ol can of worms' that brings to light subtle/sub-concious colonial prejudice that is hard to pinpoint and etraodinarily hard for me to speak out about. Esp to my lebian-aware-awesome-white-liberated-sisters-friends.

I don't have an answer for you, but i really appreciate your awareness and wiling to question your privlege.

Arohanui

fnessm said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

'Good old can of worms' is that ever since I first thought about writing (over ten years ago) there has been debate over what right someone has to represent a culture/person/situation outside of their own life.

In NZ the most common equation for this debate has been about the representation of Maori (and increasingly Pacific Islanders). I acknowledge historical relations between cultures in NZ has been poor and that much harm has been done by creative works that lack sensitivity, awareness and understanding. It's not my intention to add to that pile.

I wonder when there will be an acceptance of difference that allows us to explore in order to understand, rather than mark territory as out of bounds for fear of how it will be received?

I wonder from where I get 'permission' to represent people/cultures/events that I am not or have never been part of in order to be able to develop the richness that is my world into my writing?

I wonder who it is that deems it right or wrong?

I wonder how I resolve this for myself so that I can write without the fear of offending those who are different to me?

I wonder how I can so often read of the lack of representation of 'NZ' in film and yet have to consider eliminating something that I feel is uniquely NZ from my work?

Or, do I simply have to write one-dimensional scripts about white lesbian youngest children who are a bit lippy sometimes? (To be honest I'm not sure there's that much of a market for it ;-) )

Sporty said...

My two cents - it's not about writing about people unlike yourself. Having been a child you can legitimately write and writing a male will give a sense of your perception of men...

I believe writing about Maori (and other discriminated against groups) is different.

I also hope there will be a time when it will be similar to you writing about men - that is when Maori have control over their own image in the dominant discourse.

Until this happens what you write wont be percieved by the majority as illuminating your sense of relatedness or understanding it will be seen in a sense as a truth.

IN a rush so this may not make sense but hey

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