Thanks to the gracious invitation from my Screenwriting Research Network colleague Paolo Russo – and a grant he was able to procure (and in the before-Covid time) I was able to spend a week at Oxford Brookes University working with the screenwriting masters students in Paolo’s course. At the culmination of the week, I gave this lecture on how writers rooms worked in the States.
So, this other episode — it’s called Smokescreen — had to do with an African-American executive at a tobacco company who of course has to deal with the fact that he’s selling a product and kills people. There was going to be a lawsuit and originally — we have two angels — one was Roma Downey — who comes from Ireland — an Irish woman and one was Della Reese, a famous jazz singer who’s a woman of color. We always made the angels real people in people’s lives and that’s how they got to talk to you and try to — they never told you they were angels till the very end when everything would you know they could get you to change your mind — so the very first thing because people fall back on stereotypes all the time. It is far too easy to go to the stereotype and you have to learn to go beyond it. So they’re going to make Roma Downey the lawyer — the guest lawyer — and Della Reese the guest maid in this family and one of my best friends — this is a terrible phrase from Seinfeld happens to be African-American right. She’s not my only African-American friend but my best friend and I knew she would cringe if Della Reese played a maid. So I raised my little hand and I said wouldn’t it be cool if Della was the lawyer and Roma was the maid.
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