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Michelle's corner

Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)

Is it right to restrict who tells a story?

This is a delicate subject. A very awkward subject. It keeps raising its head in our modern times of international communication, and this morning I read it again. "Should a white man tell a black trans woman's story?" in the BBC News pages.


This time at issue, it is David France telling the story of Marsha P Johnson. A separate film was being undertaken by Reina Gossett, and there are accusations being made in various fields.


You can align, or even misalign me, with Johnson's story. I'm transsexual but I'm white. I'm also living in the UK as opposed to the US. In the year that the Stonewall riots happened, I was breathing my first lung full of air on this planet.


I consider a story to be an interpretation. You peer through the magic looking glass into another world and absorb the lessons it has to teach and the experience it has to offer. You allow it to nestle in your heart and become a small piece of your own life. Yes... that magic looking glass can be tainted, but there is an argument that it NEEDS to be tainted. The question is... how much, in what direction, and by whom?


Part of the problem here, is that the focus is on one individual when, in film, there are many people involved in the team that brings a story to the screen. Not so in the majority of books, so I'm going to continue this with the view that one person is the looking glass.


To deliberately go to the extremes in order to illustrate the point, part of the problem we have faced today is a failure of understanding. Two sides talking, but neither listening... and each side unable to put their position forward in a way that the other will understand. An interpreter needs to know more than language. The interpreter needs to know the cultures in order to correctly bridge the gap of understanding. Translation needs so much more than a simple understanding of diction. That is why many automatic translation systems are  so bad.


The storyteller needs to not only understand the story, but also needs to understand the audience. In some cases, that magic looking glass will need to be created multiple times, with different tints. Each one tuned for the people who are going to be looking through it.


At the end of the day, if two films are created, Gossett can watch France's film, and France can watch Gossett's, and each come away with different impressions. That is why the world of art is so crazy. Different people like different things.


To my mind, the best person to tell a story is the person who is best at crafting that tint. The person who best understands both the story and the audience.