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Screenwriter’s Monthly: Spotlight on Black Writers

By May 25, 2023No Comments

Screenwriter’s Monthly_Spotlight on Black WritersWelcome to Screenwriter’s Monthly, our series (and email newsletter) that offers interviews with notable screenwriters, in-depth advice from career professionals, and insight and analysis of the latest filmmaking trends. The best part? It’s all here, just like the old morning paper.

So, what do we got for you this month?

Screenwriter's Monthly: Spotlight on Black Writers

No one disturb Pops while he reads Screenwriter’s Monthly.

Edition 2: Spotlight on Black Writers

This edition, we’re showcasing black writers. And to do that we’ll take a little stroll down memory lane, going back to Oscar Micheaux, the “Czar of Black Hollywood” whose films not only tackled the racism he experienced but also brought complex Black characters to the screen at a time when portrayals were stereotypical at best. 

Then, we’ll talk with pro TV writer Charlie Peppers about his biggest inspirations and his experience writing for Rian Johnson’s Columbo-inspired hit mystery series Poker Face

And as always, we end things with homework—what to watch from our fave Black screenwriters—and a round-up of trailers you can’t miss.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Hollywood History: Who was Oscar Micheaux?

“I have always tried to make my photoplays present the truth, to lay before the Race a cross-section of its own life, to view the Colored heart from close range. It is only by presenting those portions of the Race portrayed in my pictures, in the light and background of their true state, that we can raise our people to greater heights.” —Oscar Micheaux, 1925

Before Spike Lee, Ava Duverny, Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, and Dee Rees, there was Oscar Devereaux Micheaux. Micheaux is widely regarded as the first prominent African-American filmmaker. His career in the arts, which he began as an author, spanned silent and sound films. 

Born in 1884, Micheaux knew racial oppression from the start. His father was born into slavery in Kentucky. The racial oppression Micheaux experienced during his childhood in Kansas inspired many of his groundbreaking books and films. 

After spending his teens in Chicago as an entrepreneur, he moved West as a homesteader. His first novel, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer, was a semi-autobiographical work about trading city life for the Western frontier and encouraging other Black people to do the same. 

Before long, Los Angeles called. George Johnson of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company (considered the first all-Black production company) reached out about adapting the book into a film. Micheaux decided to take the reins, established the Micheaux Film & Book Company, and made the movie himself. His silent adaptation, The Homesteader, starred Evelyn Preer, also known as “The First Lady of the Screen” by Black film buffs. It was a hit.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Evelyn Preer in The Homesteader

Micheaux followed up with another hit, Within Our Gates, also starring Preer. The film contained a lynching scene and a white man raping a Black woman. When he tried to premiere it in Chicago in the aftermath of the Chicago Race Riots, a.k.a. “Red Summer,” Micheaux found himself barred by the Chicago Board of Censors. To get a version of the film approved for theaters, he had to go back to the editing room and then back to the censors to plead his case—with the help of legendary journalist, activist and writer Ida B. Wells no less.  

“Those who reasoned with the spectacle of last July in Chicago ever before them, declared the showing pre-eminently dangerous; while those who reasoned with the knowledge of existing conditions, the injustices of the times, the lynchings and handicaps of ignorance, determined that the time is ripe to bring the lesson to the front.” – Chicago Defender, 1920

Micheaux would battle the censors his entire career. But that didn’t stop him from producing and directing over forty films, many of which unprecedentedly exposed the racist status quo of American society and expanded the humanist representation of Black people in Hollywood. 

“We want to see our lives dramatized on the screen as we are living it, the same as other people, the world over.”—Oscar Micheaux

Check out the acclaimed documentary The Czar of Black Hollywood to learn more about Oscar Micheaux.

Read More: 28 Movies You Should Watch During Black History Month

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

“Love the Craft” — Talking with mystery writer extraordinaire Charlie Peppers.

Charlie Peppers is an African-American, LGBTQ+ writer born and raised in Brooklyn. He most recently worked as Story Editor for Rian Johnson’s Poker Face starring Natasha Lyonne, which you can stream on Peacock. The episode Charlie co-wrote is being lauded as a “level up” for the series. We asked him about his inspirations and experience writing for the mystery genre. Take notes.

Screenwriter’s Monthly: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re working on.

Charlie Peppers: My name is Charlie Peppers, and I’m from Brooklyn. I wrote my first pilot when I was 11 years old, and I remember taking it very seriously; it felt like work, even then. At the moment, I’m writing a horror film and developing several other projects. I co-wrote the fifth episode of Rian Johnson’s Poker Face.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Screenwriter’s Monthly: Who are your biggest screenwriting inspirations?

Charlie Peppers: Spike Lee for conveying Blackness in all its specificity. John Hughes for beautiful scene description. Shonda Rhimes for larger-than-life monologues — they’re almost Shakespearean. Tarantino for injecting rich personalities into each one of his characters. Nora Ephron for excellent back-and-forth dialogue between her characters. Rian Johnson for setups and payoffs is better than anyone I know.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Screenwriter’s Monthly: What’s the most helpful feedback you’ve ever gotten as a screenwriter?

Charlie Peppers: LOVE THE CRAFT. I cannot stress this enough. You can’t just write screenplays — you need to consume them as a hobby. Assign yourself a new screenwriter each month, read through all of their work, and discover what about their writing style works on the page. This will keep your skills sharp. Also, never hand in a script to your showrunner, manager or agents before combing through it multiple times. You should feel strongly about the material, even if there’s still room for improvement.

Screenwriter’s Monthly: Tell us about Poker Face and your experience working on the show.

Charlie Peppers: I first met with the showrunners, Lila and Nora Zuckerman, back in 2021. After this, I met with Maya and Natasha’s production company, and, finally, one-on-one Zoom calls with Rian and Natasha herself. I believe it was five meetings total before they offered me the gig. 

Honestly, I respect the hell out of how much thought they put into building the writer’s room. They read nearly 300 scripts before deciding on who they wanted to interview, so I feel very blessed. Writing on the show was always a fun challenge; you’re not just breaking a story, but Charlie’s investigation and eventual takedown of the antagonist.

Screenwriter’s Monthly: Poker Face is described as a “case-of-the-week” show. How did you prepare to dive into this classic TV mystery format, and what did you learn about the mystery genre?

Charlie Peppers: I watched a lot of Columbo, actually. That show was a huge influence on the writer’s room. Plotting anything within the mystery genre can be taxing; however, the payoff is incredible — the audience is rewarded for tracking small details.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Screenwriter’s Monthly: In Poker Face, Natasha Lyonne plays novice gumshoe, Charlie Cale. What are some of the most important things to remember when creating a protagonist for a mystery series?

Charlie Peppers: You can’t make them your protagonist too clever. Otherwise, there’s no arc to their investigation. Charlie’s not a trained detective but very capable of sensing when things are off. That’s literally her gift. As people, we all have intuition. Watching your protagonist rely on theirs — and slowly reach the core of a injustice — is wickedly satisfying.

Screenwriter’s Monthly: When watching a mystery, we often see clues dropped throughout the story — and we sometimes have to go back a second time to catch them, like Easter Eggs. What are some of your favorite clues in TV and film that maybe took a second watch to notice?

Charlie Peppers: Oof. That’s tough because I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I’ll just give two things for your readers to check out. Check out “Suitable for Framing,” the fourth episode of Columbo’s first season. Also, this is technically a novel, not a show or film, but Agatha Christie is the godmother of the mystery genre — she tore me open with the big reveal in Death on the Nile.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Screenwriter’s Monthly: Misdirection and red herrings are essential to keeping your audience from solving the mystery too early. What are some good strategies for staying ahead of your audience?

Charlie Peppers: Hiding a key piece of evidence in innocuous details is always effective. For example, the detective hones in on a few significant clues while ignoring a smaller one that doesn’t initially set off red flags. You can also have a clue that becomes relevant as the protagonist learns more about the antagonists’ idiosyncrasies.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

Screenwriter’s Monthly: What are your favorite ways to create suspense when writing? And what advice do you have for our readers writing their own mysteries?

Charlie Peppers: A well-written sneak and creep is always fun. We love watching characters in places they don’t belong, rooting around for clues. It’s also neat to have the protagonist in tense situations, forced to keep their wits for to garner more information from the antagonist.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

What to Watch: Movies

Murder in Harlem

Oscar Micheaux’s 1935 sound remake of his silent film The Gunsaulus Mystery is a detective story about a Black man who is wrongly accused of killing a white woman.

Dear White People

Justin Simien raised money on Indiegogo to produce this career-catapulting feature.


The latest from Jordan Peele, reigning king of the social thriller.

Do The Right Thing

This fateful day in Brooklyn with Mookie and Radio Raheem is essential viewing. 

Boyz N The Hood

An iconic film that earned John Singleton Oscar noms for both directing and original screenplay.

What to Watch: TV

Living Single

Yvette Lee Bowser’s iconic sitcom about a group of Brooklyn friends starring Queen Latifah. Stream it on HBO Max!

Abbot Elementary

Quinta Brunson’s comedy jawn about the teachers of an under-funded Philly grade school won the 2023 Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series.

I May Destroy You

Michaela Coel won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for this outstanding series.


Kenya Barris’s –ish empire started with this Emmy-winning network sitcom.

Trailer Round-Up

White Men Can’t Jump

Kenya Barris (of Black-ish and its various spin-offs) heads this remake of the classic film.


Stefanie Robinson (Atlanta, What We Do In The Shadows) wrote this drama about classical composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

They Cloned Tyrone

John Boyega stars in this sci-fi-comedy-mystery from writing team Juel Taylor and Tony Rettenmaier.

Screenwriters Monthly Spotlight on Black Writers

“Honest, intelligent criticism is an aid to the progress of an effort.” – Oscar Micheaux

Are you thinking about getting into screenwriting or wanna get some eyes on your (future Oscar-winning) script? Check out our coverage services to get detailed feedback from the best in the biz.

Read More: Screenwriter’s Monthly: Adventures in the Multiverse