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Monday, October 21, 2013

3 Reasons Whiteness is Preferred for Complex Bad Guys

Quick, which side would be more captivating with audiences?
My recent blog post 3 Ways to Write a Riveting Bad Guy has gotten some great traffic and awesome comments. For that I would like to say thanks to all of my readers. It isn't easy keeping a blog running with new material, especially if you don't have the readership to keep you confident in your writing. But, you guys keep me going.

I had received a comment from a reader for my blog post 3 Ways to Write a Riveting Bad Guy that had said my comment about writing a bad guy like Walter White from Breaking Bad only works for whites. He said that my example of using an every man like Walter and turning him bad is a formula that wouldn't work for blacks. He then went into the subject of how white characters are given more freedom to commit atrocious crimes such as Tony Soprano and Dexter. He called it the glorification of white crime, which is an interesting way of saying being a mastermind drug lord, a conflicted kingpin or a genius serial killer is a white thing.

The thing about his argument is that he is trying to consider reality as a reason why blacks are not portrayed as these characters in fiction. For one, how could a black person be like Tony Soprano when in real life the judicial system is racially biased toward them? Walter and Dexter would not get past the first few episodes of their shows if they were black men. The police would have been all over them for reason of suspicion since blacks are always considered criminals first and law abiding citizens last.

My thing is that I feel anyone can do anything; good or bad. For example, there have been black kingpins and black serial killers in real life. The real thing is that everyone gets caught eventually. However, there is no need to get into that side of the argument because the 3 reasons whiteness is preferred in fiction for complex bad guys have nothing to do with it.

Readership and Ratings (Importance)

Money makes the world go round. It is a small thing that we give so much weight to when it comes to the decisions we make. For example, a writer has a great story that will be about the antagonist, but he wants to make as much money as he can from it. So, he decides to make the antagonist a white man. Since he feels that stories in all forms of media always do better when they star whites. Yes, there are examples of blacks who are the star antagonists and the story is commercially successfully, but that is not a common factor and he doesn't know if Denzel Washington can portray his villain, damn it. After all, he doesn't consider the fact that blacks are not given as much opportunity to star in these roles or to be written into them. He just considers the current statistics, not what could be. Whites are considered more important than blacks to more people, so why risk writing a flop.

Every now and then you see the backlash from audiences when a character was expected to be white. Like the new Spiderman and the little black girl in The Hunger Games. When most writers, especially for TV and movies, do their craft, they typically write for whites because that is more likely to help their story become commercially successful. And you know, the same can be said about novelists if you think about it.


If you took Tony Soprano and dropped him off at a university, he wouldn't make it. But if you took him and dropped him off at a casino, he would be running it in no time. He may not seem it upon appearance, but he is intelligent. Of course there is no need to persuade you into believing that Walter and Dexter are smart. After all, the more serious the crime the more intelligent the character has to be to keep getting away with it. Especially if it is really just him pulling it off or he has very few partners in crime.

Intelligence is something that most still feel whites have more of especially when comparing them to blacks. So having a black character as being so intelligent that he keeps getting away with it is something a lot of people just can't believe.Can you imagine a black Hannibal Lecter?  Could you write a black character like him? Or is the character just too smart to be black and too complex?

Simplicity vs Complexity

When black characters are bad guys in fiction they are typically two dimensional characters. Since blacks are not seen as complex people, but simple ones. For a lot of people it doesn't matter how many blacks break racial barriers, they just don't want to see them as equals. Especially when it comes to complexity.

Human beings are all complex. There is nothing simple about you or me. The reasons why we are who we are and the reasons why we do what we do are many and we are always conflicted. But, this seems to not cross over in to fiction for every race. Sure we can have all those things apply to white characters because that is what we feel about whites. But how about blacks? No. Complexity is a white thing.

Now there are always great examples of black antagonists who are complex, but it is far and few in between. I know it is odd for a black writer, such as myself, to be asking more writers to write blacks as bad guys, but that isn't what I am really asking. I am asking to think of us as just as important, intelligent and complex as whites when writing your stories.


  1. I understand exactly what you are saying, Andre, and I think that we need to break these patterns of expectations from people who read fiction and across every corner of life. They are archaic views. They have no place in our world today nor should they ever have. I think the best way to break it is to do it more and more.

    I want the freedom to be able to create characters of all manner of ethnicities and dimensions. The real-world is complex, so why are we keeping our fiction so two-dimensional? I also want to create unexpected events, it is more interesting to me anyway than anything that is overdone.

    1. Amen, Lori...I couldn't agree with you more....

  2. I see this as an opportunity to pioneer new ground. Ground breaking literature begins by forcing the audience to view life through someone else's perception in a way that helps them understand why the are the way they are, and act the way the act. Roots did that for White and some components of Black America back in the 70's. It can be done. The challenge is to do it from the perspective of one central character, where you are constantly changing the way you feel about him or her. Loving them one minute, hating them the next, and everything in between.

  3. Don't forget about Mr. Glass in Unbreakable. He was a fantastic villain. Intelligent, complex, and that film did pretty well. I think some authors are afraid they'll be labeled as racist if they write black villains... but part of getting past racism is getting past that fear. Be sensitive, yes, but not fearful.

    1. Some authors may be afraid to write black villains, but most authors have no problem writing simplistic black henchmen.

      On the upside, Mr. Glass is an awesome example of a great black villain. Thanks, Kayiscah.

    2. I (dutch, white, female) would indeed be hesitant to write a black villain, complex or otherwise. For fear of being accused of discrimination, shallowness or lack of empathy. "How could you possibly know what it is like to be a black person in a by white people dominated society?"

      Not long ago there was this huge public debate (in the Netherlands) about a white, Jewish writer who wrote about black women (and these women weren't even villains).

    3. You shouldn't be hesitant. Most stories are about the human perspective, they are not about being white or black.

      Only when you want to write a story that focuses on racial or ethnic elements then all you have to do is just do your research. Just like if I wanted to write about a Jewish man surviving the Holocaust, I would do my research.

  4. That was a very interesting post which outlined at least three reasons why antagonists are almost always white. Not all of them though; some of James Bond's adversaries have been black and of course in The Color Purple, Danny Glover is the antagonist but you have given me food for thought. I think I might see how a black antagonist would work in one of my future novels

    1. Thanks for reading. I am glad you will consider making a change in your work.

  5. Everything you said is the absolute truth, but maybe the only ones less put into fiction and the movies, are Native Americans. Sure there was Dances With Wolves that proved Indians can act, but again, they had to play the Indians of the 1800's. No one even chose a real Indian to play in The Lone Ranger movie. My novel is about today's Natives, and their life on the Rez...almost all my characters are Native. I hope I was successful in making them complex and intelligent, which they are.

  6. An interesting post from an American perspective. Here in Australia, people are beginning to notice the lack of 'ethnic' minorities on television and in Australian movies and becoming annoyed - particularly us 'ethnics' (I was born in Denmark). So, despite around 1/4 of our population being born overseas, and about another quarter having at least one parent born overseas, the Anglo-Celts dominate the media. We are very fortunate in having one multicultural TV station, which broadcasts in many different languages and shows movies, series and documentaries from other lands (with subtitles in English), but only a very small proportion of the population actually watch it. All this annoys me so much, I made sure to put an ethnic mix into my novels, but still had trepidations about making my main (and extremely intelligent & complex) villain Japanese in case I was seen as being racist. However, I think we need to introduce as much of an ethnic mix into all aspects of our writing as we can...that's the real world now in many countries, and challenging stereotypes is so very important.

  7. For me, Denzel Washington is one of, if not the most talented actor in the world right now. He is so versatile it's scary. He is also able to portray characters of real depth and complexity as well as any other actor who's ever lived.

    I am not sure about his lineage. But I do observe real talent emerging from mixed races. Not just black with white, or black with asian, or white with asian; but also between different countries within Europe, yadda yadda, and so on ad infinitum.

    For the so called popular assumption that people of african lineage are somehow less complex to propagate itself, film makers and writers need only carry on asserting and supporting erroneous archetypes. I for one feel the itch to produce within an future story a most heinous of African villains; so thanks for that; but also recognise that the complexity of him may not come from white blood but from black, and you can be damn sure most of the evil does in fact come from the white! (I am white by the way).

  8. What a perfectly politically correct way of pointing out the idiocy of political correctness. “it is not because we liberals don’t want to make black people out to be criminals…it’s because we glorified white crime”…. Typical liberal hypocrisy.