It is my pleasure to be contributing to Alicia’s wonderful blog on the subject of multicultural speculative fiction. Or, as I sometimes call it, fantastic fiction.
Having come into the world of writing multicultural speculative fiction novels from the other end of the spectrum, I’m ashamed to admit I knew very little about it. I moved from New York, where I was born and raised, to Los Angeles over twenty years ago. I spent the first decade as a Hollywood stuntman and the second as a screenwriter.
I eked out a living writing action genre scripts for independent straight-to-video producers. However, every time I tried to set up a studio level project, despite great interest at the onset, a gatekeeper somewhere along the way would eventually derail the project. I did sell an action television series. And we even shot a pilot presentation.
I had insisted on using the Puerto Rican model turned actress Talisa Soto (“License to Kill,” “Mortal Kombat”) as the star of the show. In the end, despite the fact that her name was marketable internationally, we did not get picked up to go to series. After a score of years and many more disappointing near misses, I found myself questioning my Hollywood existence and the things I was being force fed by studio executives.
These statements revolved around the same theme: “Black and minority films don’t do well internationally” (my humble opinion is, it depends on the film). When I asked them about Denzel Washington and Will Smith - whose films do great overseas - I was told “the movie-going audience doesn’t PERCEIVE them as Black” (despite the fact Washington had played Malcolm X and Smith had played Muhammad Ali, two of the Blackest men in history in terms of racial outspokenness).
Being Black, I also didn’t fit the cookie cutter mold Hollywood has cast for African American writers and directors. I didn’t pen ghetto dramas or street gang/drug war flicks. I had grown up on a steady diet of comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
When there was interest in one of my scripts where the main character was African American, Latino, Asian, or female, there would eventually be the telltale question: “Can you make the lead character a White male?” Slowly, I pulled away from these studio meetings that never amounted to anything other than development hell, and began to explore turning my unproduced fantastic fiction scripts into fantastic fiction novels.
I created the blog “Like A Bat Out Of Brooklyn” and my own publishing imprint Brooklyn Apache Press with a mission statement to create genre fare - be it action, adventure, science fiction, fantasy, or horror - for a diverse audience. The audience that reflects the true complexion of America today. The audience that Hollywood pretends doesn’t exist. The audience that I know is out there. The audience that even Hollywood’s own demographics acknowledge: The largest dedicated movie-going audience in America is Latino. So, using Hollywood’s own logic, shouldn’t the vast majority of the films being produced in the Studio system have Latino themes and star Hispanic talent?
In the pursuit of marketing my projects, I soon began to discover an entire universe of diverse literary works on the Internet. I began hearing intriguing terms like Steam Funk and Sword and Soul. I began finding Facebook groups like “State of Black Speculative Fiction” and sites like Alicia McCalla’s “Multicultural Speculative Fiction with Heroines Who Fight Back” and “Alien Star Books - Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens and Young Adults.”
Now I’m connecting with this community and truly enjoying writing my books my way with characters that reflect the true diversity of America not only ethnically, but also by gender and cultural heritage.
I haven’t given up on Hollywood completely. I’ve adapted my upcoming novel “SPOOK:
Confessions of a Psychic Spy” - a Cold War paranormal adventure that explores racism in America in the 1960s and the tumultuous Civil Rights Movement that ignited the country - into a TV pilot for a cable network series. I’m working with my manager, a producer, a casting director, and a TV rep on the project.
However, I’m waiting for the day an executive at one of the companies we approach, says, “I absolutely love the concept and how it explores the race issue. But is there anyway the lead character can be White?”
Because, believe me, as things stand now in Hollywood, that day will come.
Carlton Kenneth Holder, screenwriter and novelist. Creator of Brooklyn Apache press, devoted to diversity in fiction.