A script is not set in stone. It’s not something sacred that you’re not allowed to amend if it doesn’t serve your purpose. Especially when it’s offensive and discriminatory against race, ethnicity, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation, you name it.
If you’re an actor and you feel ‘somewhat uncomfortable’ or ‘not entirely comfortable’ saying a certain line, you do feel uncomfortable, period. Any degree of discomfort is discomfort. You shouldn’t have to defend why you’re feeling uncomfortable. Trust your instincts; if you’re feeling uncomfortable, there’s a good reason why.
If you’re personally offended and emotionally affected by a certain statement, it might be daunting to speak up about it. Maybe someone else who you trust who’s in the room with you could speak up about it with you or for you. That’s the privilege that comes with not being personally offended and discriminated against; it doesn’t require the same emotional labor to be seen or heard.
To anyone who hears an offensive word, line or statement and who’s emotionally unaffected by it, I say appreciate and use the privilege. Speak on behalf of someone else or a community of people whether they’re in the room or not. Your job is to try your best to right the wrong. If you’re afraid of burning bridges, maybe a couple of other people in the room feel the same discomfort and would like to speak up with you as a group? Maybe there’s a coach in the room that you can confide in, who might be able to have a chat with the director if they haven’t done so already?
When you speak up, the director’s reaction can go two ways:
They might thank you for bringing it up because they were unsure or simply hadn’t realized just how offensive it was, and then change it
- or -
They might not appreciate you saying anything ‘against their directing' at all and react with any or all of the following:
deflect: “Nah I think we changed that word/line/statement” (even when you both know that’s not true)
deny: “I just worked with xy people” or “I have xy friends” (implying they can’t possibly be offensive or xy-phobic for that reason)
gaslight: “You just don’t get the joke” (deluding you into thinking that it’s not that big of a deal and/or that you’re wrong so that you question your own judgment)
dismiss: “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing, so you go and do your job and I do mine”
refuse to take any responsibility: “I didn’t write the script so it’s not my decision”
It is their decision. It is their responsibility. They may not have written the script, but that doesn’t mean it’s not their job to make it inclusive to all.
In a room full of creatives, an idea of how to change the word, line or statement without losing the script’s spirit should not be too hard to find. Let’s help make theater and film practice inclusive and anti-discriminatory!