Monday, July 7, 2008

Portraying stereotypes in scripts

My sister's short film, Take Three, is being shown at the NZ International Film festival this week. Without appearing to be my sister's biggest fan (well... OK, maybe I am), I find this a sweetly subversive model of how to undercut stereotypes in film and TV.

Several plays I've watched in the past two months take aim at stereotypes, and unsurprisingly Lantern also comes out swinging. So I've been thinking, and talking about, stereotypes a lot. I've observed that the main danger in taking aim at a racial stereotype is that in seeking to overturn it you have to first of all portray it. And that means that if your subversion or ironic statement doesn't quite work, you end up perpetuating rather than subverting.

It seems to me that subtle humour works far better in this situation than melodrama or heavy irony. Audiences don't like being told they're wrong, but NZ audiences seem quite willing to laugh at themselves and in so doing realise their silly assumptions. (reference Billy T James, Brotown etc). The problem with doing it subtly, of course, is that there will always be people who won't get it and think that you really are laughing with (rather than at) the stereotypes.

Comedy-drama is my form of choice at the moment because of all these reasons: it is subtle, it is gently persuasive, and it leads rather than forces people to think. NZers seem to like to laugh, but from what I gather is played on primetime TV they haven't been encouraged to be very discerning about where they get their laughs from. At which stage I am about to turn all sniffy and start making snobby references to "quality of writing" which I am by no means qualified to make, so I'd better stop there.

1 comment:

Piokiwi said...

For those who don't understand the term "yellow fever" which I have used elsewhere, here's a helpful (and deliciously ranty) article: