In Defense of Slurs

by | Mar 25, 2019 | Playwriting, Theatre Unleashed | 0 comments

About

Gregory Crafts

Gregory Crafts

Creative Multi-Hyphenate

An award-winning multi-hyphenate creative artist, with more than twenty-five years of experience as an actor, playwright, director, designer, and theatrical producer under his belt, Greg graduated from Emerson College in Boston, MA with a Bachelor’s in Theatre Studies in 2003. Soon after, Greg migrated to Los Angeles seeking adventure in the entertainment industry. He currently resides in North Hollywood, CA with his wife, Jenn, and their three cats.

The 2016 staged reading of Friends Like These

Last week, a high school student in South Carolina e-mailed asking me to grant him the rights to produce Friends Like These. Not the stage rights; the film rights.

He wants to turn my play into a film.

Pretty cool, right? I mean, if nothing else, I’m honored that the story I wrote more than a decade ago resonates with him so much.

There are, of course, a couple of catches.

He wants to shoot the whole story as a proper feature-length film. Well, as proper as a high school film student with no budget can shoot a period piece set at the turn of the 21st century.

I admit, as exciting as this opportunity is, I did have concerns at first about giving permission for him to do this.

I mean, on one hand it’s not like people have been lining up to produce this show since it’s been published. I’m grateful to see it get any attention at all.

On the other hand, I’ve fielded the occasional hypothetical discussion about a feature-length adaptation before from individuals with much bigger bankrolls. He’s definitely not the first. He probably won’t be the last. As hard as saying ‘no’ to this would be, I would have hated to compromise future opportunities by saying ‘yes’ to him now.

But the good news is, after some research, I’ve found that there are ways to negotiate a license for him that don’t compromise those other opportunities for me.

So that’s #1.

#2, of course, are the proposed edits.

95% of his requested changes are simply taking all of the profanity out of the script. And that’s a lot. I mean, there are over 70 instances of the word ‘fuck’ and its derivatives actually written in the script (and yet Sammi still managed to find room for a few extras during our 2014 Fringe run).

For the most part, the profanity doesn’t serve a dramatic purpose. I wrote the characters as foul-mouthed as I did simply because, when I was growing up, that’s how we talked to each other when there were no adults present.

He sent me a three page list of suggested re-writes. I sent him the preexisting ‘clean’ version of the script I did for Stage Rights when I signed the publishing contract. That takes care of that.

That other 5% though… that’s where it gets complicated.

There are a handful of instances where the primary antagonist calls the main protagonist a faggot, even in the ‘clean’ edit. There are also few moments where the protagonist is recounting times where he’s been called that word by bullies.

Out of respect for the LGBTQIA+ community, and for his cast and crew, he wants to change the moments by either eliminating the word completely, or substituting in “queer” or “nerd” (the lines would still make sense in context).

His sentiment is noble. I understand it. It makes perfect sense.

I’m 100% against it.

And I just finished writing the mother of all essays to him about why I won’t approve his suggested changes.

And because I am an insecure attention whore that craves validation, I’m sharing that essay here with you:


Let me start this off by first saying that I acknowledge and understand your concern here.

Words have power. Some more than others. And few words are more charged or painful than slurs. They are offensive.

But that’s precisely why I chose to use the word “faggot” in the dialogue, and why I used it where I did.

Because it is offensive.

Because it is painful.

Because, in the specific context of this story, it’s a direct challenge of one’s manliness.

And that is why the only characters that use that word in a weaponized context are the story’s antagonists, Jesse and the nameless Voices. Jesse’s a bully and uses that word to assert his own masculinity over Garrett. Like many of the bullies and problematic assholes I knew growing up, he’s a child that thinks carelessly wielding that particular slur makes him strong. He doesn’t understand the deeper impact, the history, or context of the word. He just knows it’s a ready-made way to cut down and diminish those he deems inferior to himself. It’s a carefully-considered key element of his character.

Garrett and Diz do say it themselves, but only when talking about moments where others have used it to attack Garrett. It’s never used by him or Diz to offend or hurt others.

By taking on this project, you are committing to tell a story involving bullying, harassment, and abuse where the main character is driven within a hair’s breadth of committing mass murder, and another character actually goes through with it. The story doesn’t make sense if the main characters don’t suffer enough to drive them to that breaking point. Garrett being called a “faggot” is painful for him; as painful as it was for me, and anyone else that word has been used against. That particular word has far more impact and inflicts more pain than your proposed alternatives.

It’s necessary for Garrett to experience that pain; it’s literally part of the motivation that shapes him as a character and his arc. Garrett has to suffer first in order to transcend that suffering and grow as a person. If the journey is too easy for him, or if the difficulties he faces aren’t that terrible, the climax of the story is robbed of its potency and the whole thing makes little sense.

To give a some historical context, through ethnographic research in a high school setting, CJ Pascoe examined how American high school boys used the term fag during the early 2000s. Pascoe’s work suggested that these boys used the fag epithet as a way to assert their own masculinity, by claiming that another boy is less masculine; this, in their eyes, makes him a fag, and its usage suggests that it is less about sexual orientation and more about gender. One-third of the boys in Pascoe’s study claimed that they would not call a homosexual peer a fag, leading Pascoe to argue that fag is used in this setting as a form of gender policing, in which boys ridicule others who fail at masculinity, heterosexual prowess, or strength. Because boys do not want to be labeled a fag, they hurl the insult at another person. Pascoe felt the fag identity does not constitute a static identity attached to the boy receiving the insult. Rather, fag is a fluid identity that boys strive to avoid, often by naming another as the fag. As Pascoe asserts, “[the fag identity] is fluid enough that boys police their behaviors out of fear of having the fag identity permanently adhere and definitive enough so that boys recognize a fag behavior and strive to avoid it”. – [Wikipedia]

That stuff actually happened. I know because I lived it throughout high school in the late 90’s. I never used that word to cut down anyone else (which is why you don’t hear Garrett or Bryan use it pejoratively, either). But that is why it’s in the script.

I know that times have changed, and acknowledge your desire to make these alterations out of respect for LGBTQ+ members of your cast and crew, but I won’t approve alterations changing or removing that word. I am not seeking to offend you or your team, or disrespect members of the queer community; instead, if you want to tell this story, I am challenging you all to handle that language in a mature fashion, as any other professional filmmaker would. This particular story is set in the year 2000, and the use of that word in this context is historically appropriate and (an unfortunate) part of the period’s culture.

Sorry, I know that’s a lot. I hope it makes sense.

I’m really curious to see how he responds.

UPDATE: He gets it. And I respect him so much for it. 

We’re keeping the language, and we’re in the middle of negotiating the film license.

My play’s gonna be a movie, y’all.

More on this as it happens.

About

Gregory Crafts

Gregory Crafts

Creative Multi-Hyphenate

An award-winning multi-hyphenate creative artist, with more than twenty-five years of experience as an actor, playwright, director, designer, and theatrical producer under his belt, Greg graduated from Emerson College in Boston, MA with a Bachelor’s in Theatre Studies in 2003. Soon after, Greg migrated to Los Angeles seeking adventure in the entertainment industry. He currently resides in North Hollywood, CA with his wife, Jenn, and their three cats.

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