Erika Alexander Pens & Shares Script For ‘Mad Men’ Episode ‘With Negroes’

Erika Alexander Pens & Shares Script For 'Mad Men' Episode 'With Negroes'

When she’s not creating new graphic novels with her husband Tony Puryear, or co-starring in Ernest Dickerson-directed new dramas for AMC, actress Erika Alexander is busy penning scripts for episodes of AMC’s hit series Mad Men that will likely never be made… well actually, it’s just one script, and, who knows, maybe it’ll get some attention.

Before last night’s 2-hour season premiere of Mad Men, a show that’s been on the receiving end of criticism for its rather, shall we say, vanilla casting, Ms Alexander shared the below post on her blog, titled Why I Wrote a Mad Men Episode With Negroes.

I think the title sums it up, but read her full post below, and at the end of it, you’ll find a link to a PDF file containing the 45-page script that she wrote for this Mad Men With Negroes episode that may or may not become a reality (let’s see if this travels):

Why did I write an episode of Mad Men with negroes? And by that I mean with “negro” characters in it, not with.. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Anyway, why did I write an episode of TV that I know will never be made? 

Though I work as an actress and have pitched and sold a television series or two in my time in Hollywood, I’m not a writer on Mad Men, so this episode won’t appear anywhere but here. Why, then? And why negroes? Aren’t we finished with all that? In honor of tonight’s Season 6 Premiere, let me tell you about it.

I like Mad Men. A lot. I like the subject matter – advertising; I like the cast – Don Draper is hot; I like the look – sexy Eames meets Op Art; I like the writing – Matthew Weiner is a storytelling beast. I love the writing.

I have only one issue with Mad Men (ok, with a bunch of shows, but let’s stick with this one): I’d love to see more diversity. I’m a black actress, so diversity is an issue that comes up for me. A lotMad MenGame Of ThronesGirlsVeep, these are cool shows, except for the fact that they would really rock with more people of color, series regulars or otherwise. I complain, wtf?.. and bemoan, WTF!.. but alas, for all my years in TV, I’m not able to make a difference in my own living room. Or am I?

I needed to find a different way to contribute to the conversation, to answer the constant refrain from show creators that they don’t want to just “shoehorn” black characters into their shows. Lena Dunham has said “Something I wanted to avoid was tokenism in casting”. Ok, don’t write in a token character, write five or ten great characters of color.

To be fair, Matthew Weiner has addressed this issue. “I do feel like I’m proud of the fact that I am not telling a wish fulfillment story of the real interaction of white America and black America… I’m very proud of the fact I’m not doing this guilty thing.” 

Respectfully, I believe a storyteller has permission to imagine and create unusual situations in his or her fictional world to tell a larger truth. But I get it, race is complicated.

So, I decided to apply my creative powers to writing an episode of Mad Men. I tried to incorporate the “difficult other” organically into the storyline. For me, it was easy. Mad Men is set in New York City in the 60’s. Those times were all about race. It was the defining issue of the 20th Century. I was born in the mountains of Arizona, but as a writer I don’t have a hard time imagining black and white on Madison Avenue. My husband worked as a black art director in advertising agencies both mainstream and “black-oriented” and my father-in-law was a pioneering black executive in the 1960s. I merged the two and brought the mountain to Mohammed. My Don Draper goes Uptown and meets his match. The show already had good bones, I just put some dark meat on them.

Here it is. It’s called MAD-MEN-UPTOWN-SATURDAY-NIGHT (shout-out). The script won’t be made, but I hope to demonstrate that it can be done, and that iconic TV characters can play well with “others”.

Enjoy. Let’s keep the conversation going. Let me know your thoughts. Xx. e.

ps. The Mad Men illustration by Brian Sanders was remixed by Tony Puryear.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged ,


Comments

Rick Walls

AWESOME script. I am not a huge fan of the show; when it premiered I couldn't force myself to invest in stories of that era considering how hard it was for Black folks. Since then the phenominal success and accolades have encouraged me (as a writer and director) to check it out and read some scripts. I have read several spec scripts and this was one of the best. It flowed well, seemed 100%, captured the Draper attitude and gave a sense of each character and where they were at this time. The rain gave the scenes an overall mood of being in a limbo where nothing but THIS world existed. Obviously done by a fan and a veteran writer, my philly homegirl really kicked ass with this spec script.

G

The world in which the story is set is historically accurate for those times. As they progress through the decades, diversified casting and events will be included, as they have been thus far in appropriate ways, instead of going out of the way to incorrectly depict society by casting a certain demographic. There are other shows to watch, so if you are unhappy, flip the channel.

Frank Blunt

All you people who are demanding more color on someone else's show . . . you'll be the first ones complaining that they're not the right complexion of color when you get what you're asking for.

Edwina

Excellent script. Love the concept and especially the way these Black characters are brought into the show. As professionals. It's not all pretty. The Gimbels story is disappointingly plausible. A few seasons ago on Mad Men, Pete Campbell did discover Ebony magazine and chatted up the elevator operator on refrigerator brands, I believe. It held so much promise but then went nowhere.

K Jaime

I for one, thoroughly enjoyed this script and actually wanted to read more. What Ms. Alexander did was provide a conduit for the introduction of characters of color on a well-respected show. She did not do so as a way to illicit guilt or feelings of inadequacy but I personally read her intentions as very matter of fact…Her script followed the tone already set by Weiner..much appreciated.

William K. Wallace

This Negress, Ms. Alexander, may well be a witch for she has shown us that there is a way out of no way, the novelty of a colored perspective… white folks with their limited scope and willful ignorance. We are citizens of the same country, in new a century, wise to terrible evils that marred our past. Widen your gaze, it's shows like Girls, Mad Men, Newsroom, etc. with smart writers , and its people like you content with your of dearth of experience with people of color that perpetuate the lack of blacks, Latinos, and Asians on TV, movies and in American culture. If our inclusion is based on the limited experiences of the white writer majority and continued dedication to the authenticity of segregated strata’s of American culture then we will forever be fucked. Defending the carefully disguised, oftentimes unconscious, remnants of segregation; you sir or madam are the worst kind of racist, someone who doesn't think he is. You think despite the utter lack of meaningful color in your life, or the because the perspective of the media doesn't chafe at your world view other than the occasional hypocritical conservative or corrupt Republican, or because you loved the Cosby Show or you don't go round calling folks niggers, spics and chinks you are a squared away Liberal champion of the people. This critique like most critiques of American culture are not meant to insult or inflame white people personally, if you feel the sting of my words perhaps it is, because to date it’s been almost exclusively white biography, but as another black man said not so long ago, I too sing America.

Gregg Calumet

I don't watch "Mad Men" and I do not watch HBO's "Girls"…I feel that writers are going to write shows for their intended demographic. In a lot of these shows that lack people of color it is clear they feel more comfortable writing story arcs and settings that do not include the Black experience. I'm not going to beg or protest a show to include me. I watch 'SVU', 'The Walking Dead' and 'Dexter'…all three of those shows have employed story arcs and characters that are multiethnic and multifaceted. I naturally gravitate to those shows. Erika, I commend you but we would do better to write our OWN experiences, fund them, and get them shown on networks or media outlets that are genuine about the Black experience.

Adam Scott Thompson

I love "Mad Men" for the same reason I love "The Wire." The writing is impeccable, rarely on-the-nose and never stooping to the lowest common denominator. Inevitability, not surprise, is the show's greatness; you know what's coming, but it's more about the unfolding.

The ad world of the '60s wasn't just hostile to blacks. The character Sal was a closeted homosexual who, ironically, was fired for not giving in to another man's sexual advances. And Ginsberg, a Jew, might be more talented than Don in his prime — but his last name gives him no shot at a partnership.

Rather than "flatter" an already-successful show, I'd rather see the same caliber of writing and storytelling fetched toward a series that takes place in a black (or predominately black) world — such as with "The Wire," a show whose cast was over seventy percent black.

Anyway, I'm saying that the lack of "representation" in this series shouldn't diminish its place as, simply, one of the best dramatic series ever aired on TV. To the contrary, it should set a higher bar that we all can — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc. — aspire to when telling the story of ___________.

Neka

As a consumer and fan of the show, I enjoyed Erika's script for what it is meant to do, show us that Black characters could become a more substantial part of the storyline in a way that makes sense. We could also start with showing how the impact that getting the job has had on Don's secretary's life. We saw a segment with her and Peggy before. So we could definitely explore that a bit more. But I think Erika is onto something with bringing more color into the script by way of commerce…

Charles Judson

Read the script and it does exactly the opposite of what was intended. It still shoehorns us in for the most part.

Why bring back Burt Peterson? A white character who was in one episode? I barely remembered who he was and had to look him up. I understand not going the obvious route to utilize Don's secretary. Using a character who's firing had no real impact is just straight up strange.

Why does Don have to go to Harlem? There are no stakes in Don coming down to Harlem to ask an African American agency to do contract work. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is doing well enough that they're renting out two floors and even renovated to add in stairs.

Would it be nice to get the Seagrams account? Yes. Is it a big enough deal that Don would go down to Harlem himself? Doubt it. Pete on the other hand has something to prove. He was the one to first note that African Americans are an untapped market back in season 3. Sending Pete to Harlem already has that nice setup to leverage.

Making it stronger is Pete's first big foray into marketing to African Americans involved him asking the elevator operator about what TV he used. Pete's business smarts are repeatedly undermined by his ambition and his waspy, my family used to be a big deal, nature. As Pete bristles at Don's demeanor towards him, an African American counterpart knocking Pete down a peg or two fits. More pointedly, seeing Pete's inner bigot undermine his brains matches how the character has been handled.

Most importantly, but not least, we get little sense of Leon, other than he's Don's black counterpart. If you're going to do write this type of script, why not start with Leon and let us get to know him and his agency? Why not have him fight for his, and not have Don come down from up on high to hand him a golden fleece?

Fan fiction and fan scripts aren't anything new, even established writers, directors and creators beg to play in someone else's sandbox after they fall in love with the characters and world so much. In that vein, I don't knock writing a script set in MAD MEN's universe. This still feels like a missed opportunity to pull a Far Beyond the Stars/Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and give the true flip side of agency work in the 1960s.

There's a Slate article from March of last year ("Mad Men and Black America") that expands on something Alexander's script touches on, the fear advertisers had about marketing to African Americans. An African American agency having to work hard in that type of environment, and to be taken seriously, and leverage their way in and up, has greater and more interesting stakes than dropping a show's central white character in Harlem.

Miles Ellison

Instead of just complaining about the lack of black people on Mad Men, she (sort of) did something about it. The real question is this: if a black individual with the financial wherewithal, talent, and desire made a more diverse version of Mad Men, who would watch it? A cursory survey of the cable TV landscape shows that there isn't exactly a thriving market for subtle, cerebral period shows. Or almost anything subtle, for that matter.

ALM

Erika looks amazing in that picture, and I absolutely adore her hair.

Isn't "Mad Men" about to wrap for good soon? I'm with BluTopaz on this one. It seems as if African American talent keeps begging to be included. This conversation has been started thousands of times. At this point, if a show lacks diversity, that lack of diversity is INTENTIONAL.

CareyCarey

I am sitting in the belly of a Black American. As I look up, I see the esophagus working over time in an effort to swallow a few hard pills. Yet, having been in contact with his brain, heart and soul, I know the difficulties presented by the black man's "Hiatal Hernia" will reap serendipitous rewards.

When the truth — regardless of how hard it is to swallow and how difficult the journey — hits the stomach where it can be "absorbed" and "accepted", he'll find that his struggles have not gone in vain.

So LOOK-OUT… here it comes, a thick white pill squeezing it's way through the esophagus, out the stomach, down the road to the duodenum where all the nutriants can be distributed into the blood stream.

The first big white pill looks something like this–> "we are not owed anything from whites. We need to stop…" ~ SANDRA

OUCH! Trite, but for the most part true, they do not owe us anything… and that's a hard pill to swallow. To that point I am reminded of what the writer Matthew Weiner said “I do feel like I'm proud of the fact that I am not telling a wish fulfillment story of the real interaction of white America and black America… I'm very proud of the fact I'm not doing this guilty thing.”

Now excuse me while I reach for a glass of kool-aid to rinse that down. It hurt, but I know I'll be alright in the morning.

While that's settling in, I have to get ready for a fat black & white pill –> "the majority of white people live their lives with little to no interaction with blacks and/or minorities. As minorities [in America] we live in a white world, not the other way around" ~ DRDR

OUCH! That was thick and hard to swallow but so true, which reminds me of something Akimbo said: "I like "white people" humor (love comedy across the board, really) and I still don't find her [Aisha Tyler] funny in the least. Regardless, and sadly, no way in hell does a black woman have a shot at the [late night] gig"

I'm feeling Akimbo, I too can relate to "white humor" because I, like most of us, was raised in a white world. Consequently, by a naturally extension, I am a part of their world. However, as DRDR implied, they don't have to come in our world. That said, since I have experienced both worlds, taking from each the good and the bad, I do enjoy "black humor" in all it's forms… yes, including Tyler Perry's offerings (I'll leave that for another day and another conversation).

In short, as I sit in the belly of this beast, dining on the hard pills to swallow, I was thinking about singing Otis Reading's song "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay" watching the tide roll away. You know, I was going to reflect on the messages I received from the comments and Erika Alexander's "conversation" and script.

Well, since I am sitting in the stomach, that area connected to the duodenum where most chemical digestion takes place, I think I'll end by briefly mentioning what has left the jejunum on it's way to the poop-chute.

First, I applaud Erika for exposing her creative efforts to the world. Surely it goes without question that writing is a very challenging task that's complicated by those who only "read" what they want to hear, and that which fits their agenda. Nadia said it best: "You can't win no matter what choice you make with some of you people"

So I kind-of, sort-of, pride myself on looking at the big picture. Consequently, although some took umbrage at Erika's script and her "wishful" thinking, I believe she ushered in a conversation that's in grave need of a deeper discussion. My hat is tipped her way. And, my eye is on the "negative" comments, I am watching them flow down the small intestines on their way out the bottom "port".

juliette

I"m amazed that this annoyed so many people- Why? If you don't agree, don't read it. And her husband's not white.

getthesenets

Ad industry in NYC is incredibly overwhelmingly white, trust me. Today in 2013.
Vaguely familiar with the show and if it's set in the time period that I think it is, MADISON avenue was probably 99.999% white.

I don't understand what her aim is honestly.
sounds like some ol black black blacker than thou, even though I have a white spouse nonsense

Aaron

So what is she going to do with the script? Send it to the writers of Mad Men, make it into a web series, or just keep it in the vault to please her mind?

bohemian princess

Black people always want to find some damn thing to complain about. She is a fan of the Mad Men series and wanted to re-imagine the Mad Men world in which black people were a bigger part. WTF is wrong with that? It's not like she hasn't written or sold a television series before. So she wanted to put her creative endeavors somewhere else. So what!

Sometimes this site is really supportive then again other times people just get on here to knock people down. Crab mentality. Ugh.

Bee

I think Erika Alexander is beautiful, smart, and hella talented. But I have to agree with some others who have commented. What a waste of time, an embarrassing waste of time, really. I really wish we American negroes would stop begging to be included within hegemonic white culture. After all these years, folk still can't figure out that they (or most of them-white) don't want us? Jeez. The 46 pages she wrote could have been an episode for a black or brown tv show (either one that already exists–I can't think of one on regular tv–or an original one). Smh. Just sad that some of us still desire inclusion so much.

August

Interesting comments for this article. i give major props to miss alexander for writing this script, i think it was well done and I commend her actually creating something rather than just complaining. It was nice to see what having people of color on the show might look, other than the waiters, secretaries, etc, that they usually have.

Unapologetical blackness

Why do black woman fall for this shit hook line and sinker! I mean this whole thing was reimagined so that this "hot" Don Daper will go to Harlem and bed the queen of Sheebah! After he beds her he is enlightend and puts his frat brothers on to black pussy and presto, blam, we have magic! Black women feel beautiful because some white man in a suit fucked, instead of ray ray the numbers runner hit! This is why I make content for black men! We don't fall for the bullshit, our self esteem isn't tied into mystic, it's tied into dollars and sense!

Donella

Maybe she should pitch her scripts to Oprah's OWN.

cassie Freeman

Go Lady!!! I love her! She is so awesome..and what a great idea! And what a great way to put action in front of complaining..and if the show added this it would be more truthful and I'd watch! I love many shows on tv, but it's all so white washed and adding some color and the truth of what happens when color enters the room, causes instant drama! So Bravo Erika!! Your such a star and a leader!xx

Nadia

You can't win no matter what choice you make with some of you people. What's so wrong with this? She watches the show, and she loves it, and she wants to see black people in it. And instead of whining and complaining about the lack of black people on it, like a lot of you constantly do, she actually did something about it. She took the time and wrote a damn script. That takes effort, thought and time. Could she have written an original script for an original show? Yes, but, as she says, she's done that in the past and even sold some. But this is a show that she loves and knows it's a world in which black people did exist back in the day. And she wants to do something about it. And she has done something about it. Besides it'll probably be easier to sell this than selling an entirely new original show with a black cast. It doesn't mean she isn't doing anything else. She created a graphic novel from scratch, with a black woman as the central character, and that might become a movie. Aren't we always preaching action over just talking? I have absolutely zero problems with this. And instead of chiding her, you should be getting behind her and encouraging. Damn, seriously. The glass is sometimes half full. SMDH

sandra

I'll read her script when I get home. Glad to see that she didn't just complain but actually backed up her complaint with action. My issue is this: we are not owed anything from whites. That is the hard truth that we as black creators must get through our skulls. Hollywood cannot be more clear on this point. We need to stop expecting a different result.

Unapologetic blackness

This is sad! To tell the world that you are defeated and the only escape you get is in their world through their fantasies is just crippling! Okay Mad Men is a good show (I don't know because I have never seen it) but it gets allot of word of mouth shouts! So you decided because they will never hire you because of your kinky hair or that rash you have on your skin that makes you that color, so you accept it and sit at the bottom of the steps like a colored house negro watching all the "glamor and ritz" of the master house party, imaging to yourself that you where invited! This is brain wash at its finest! Why not take your husbands experience and pen that into a show and produce it for the web! Why don't you reimagine some of these 2d black shows that are well intentioned but are stuck in the 1990's formula and aesthetic of production and enhance them. There is a reason why all these black entertainers disappear from the lime light they are so consumed with the white way of Hollywood instead of embracing the beauty of black Hollywood. Say what you want but the African movie and tv world is cranking out content and enjoying returns not because the are reimagining themselves in the white world but because they are telling the stories of their own people and selling it to their own! The easiest group of people to manipulate are black women because their self esteem is always in need of validation, and as long as you need someone to tell you your worth or beauty, you will always spend your spear time reimagining aka sitting at the bottom of the steps wishing you where all dressed up and part of the party. Shame on you Erika for wasting your time daydreaming at the bottom of the steps, when you should be leading a good ol negro spiritual and throw down in the basement and thanking God, that there is nothing else in thus world I can ever imagine myself being then Black itself!

No

I can well understand the need to wanting to be included in Mad Men, but the point of the lack of color is that world, segregated Madison Avenue, is that blacks were kept out, as with Jews (and I think Matthew Weiner is Jewish). It seems that rather then writing a wish fulfillment about, Alexander should pursue the historical line that she she had mentioned: doing a show about black ad men as the walls were tumbling down in the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe her script tackles that. We shall see.

DRDR

I think what most people fail to recognize is that the majority of white people live their lives with little to no interaction with blacks and/or minorities. To penalize a show(s) that chooses to express this, does little to remedy anything. As minorities we live in a white world, not the other way around. Sad but true. All we can do is continue to tell our stories in the most enlightening way possible, and do everything in our power not to appeal to the lowest common denominator among us (Tyler Perry wuddup?).

BluTopaz

I reaaaalllllllly wish Black people would stop begging like this.

Winston

Girl . . . Bye. This show needs negroes like Living Single needed all those miscellaneous white characters we saw every episode. Oh, wait . . .

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *