During a year filled with so much pain for so many, my mantra has been: “Try not to complain.” After all, I’m healthy. My immediate loved ones are healthy, and I’ve been fortunate to keep working in a profession I love, in a year when the pandemic drove plenty of Americans to food pantries. Yet like most human beings with a heartbeat, I couldn’t escape being emotionally impacted by traumatic events of the past year, and subsequently my work was impacted as well. For instance, after George Floyd’s killing, I was moved to add a scene to a script that was supposed to be a celebration of Black hair. As written, it’s simply a moment of two Black women preparing their hair in silence. Only when it ends does the audience realize that one woman’s son who is also the other woman’s husband was killed by a police officer and they are dressing for the funeral. When director Bianca LaVerne Jones added Billie Holiday’s haunting lynching ballad “Strange Fruit” to the scene, I accepted that our streaming production was no longer going to simply be a celebration because the moment we are living in demanded more. It’s still hard for me to watch that scene, but I realize it was necessary, and it has emerged as one of the most memorable among audiences. [Editor’s note: Goff’s The Glorious World of Crowns, Kinks and Curls premiered in March 2021 at Baltimore Center Stage.]
Like others I’ve spoken to, I’ve found myself overcome with emotion at unexpected moments this year. Despite the laughter and light that has filled most of my days in Zoom writers rooms, tears flowed when the subject of race, or injustice of any kind, or the Black men in my life, came up. And I used to be someone who prided myself on not letting my emotions get the best of me in writers rooms. But in a year filled with moments representing the worst of human behavior, it was not only hard to be at my best, but frankly I questioned whether I even had a right to be. Writing and laughing for a living can feel like self-indulgence when the world is on fire around you.
My bosses and colleagues, some of who were facing their own unique challenges thanks to the pandemic, could not have been more gracious. But I wondered how other writers of color, particularly Black- and Asian- identifying women writers, were holding up in a year filled with such heartbreak and horror for our specific communities. So I asked some of them. Their responses broke my heart and sustained my hope in equal mea- sure. Some talked about writing through the intense emotions, recalibrating their lives to maintain balance and refining their sense of purpose in their work. Because storytellers, in reminding the world of its humanity with its many colors and cultures, are essential to the quest for equality and justice, and for some of us, the most powerful political act we can undertake is to simply keep writing.
This story first appeared in the May 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.