July 25, 2017
In 2000, Mills brought me in on a project he was pitching to HBO”a miniseries about the life of American Nazi Party fÃ¼hrer George Lincoln Rockwell. I told him the network would never go for it, and in this instance, I was right. I counseled him to move away from projects centered around racism and “blackness,” as he was becoming a one-trick pony. He agreed, and soon enough he got the chance to tackle something outside his comfort zone. In 2002, NBC decided to rip off The Sopranos, at the time the hottest commodity on TV. The network wanted its own gangster-family drama, but The Sopranos already had the Italian angle well covered. So NBC brought in Mills to help come up with a non-Italian Sopranos, and Kingpin was born. Kingpin was the most highly anticipated show of the 2002 midseason. It was The Sopranos, but with a Mexican crime family. The Salsapranos! Featuring a Latino and white cast, for Mills, it was an opportunity to prove that he was not defined by “blackness.” NBC promoted the living hell out of the thing, airing the premiere twice in the same week. And…it tanked. Badly. Hated by critics and audiences alike, canceled after only six episodes. A scapegoat was needed, and Mills was the obvious choice. He went into exile, devoting his time to a magnificently bitter and occasionally brilliant blog called Undercover Black Man (a nod to the fact that he”d always worn his “blackness” more on his sleeve than on his face).
He wouldn”t find regular work in Hollywood again until 2010, when HBO hired him to executive-produce the New Orleans-set drama Treme, a show with a predominantly black cast. Yes, another “black” show. Mills was back in his element, and he was loving it. I hadn”t seen him that happy in a decade.
Twelve days before the show was to air, Mills dropped dead at age 48 from a brain aneurysm.
The unfortunate irony of David Mills” life is that he had his Hollywood career handed to him because David Milch had claimed that black writers aren”t very good at writing outside their own limited perspective, and in the end, Milch turned out to be right, at least in the case of the man who was specifically hired to prove him wrong. Mills was at his best writing “black” episodes for “black” shows. On the other hand, many of Mills” white colleagues, most notably David Simon (creator of The Corner, The Wire, and Homicide: Life on the Streets), are racially ambidextrous to an extraordinary degree (I doubt there’s ever been a TV show with more realistic and richly detailed black characters than The Wire). So when today’s SJWs ask if white writers can write accurately and empathetically about blacks, the answer is yes, absolutely. It’s a proven fact. White writers are more likely to be able to effectively voice nonwhite characters than black writers are able to voice nonblack ones. Why? Because in this country, whites are constantly encouraged to learn about and think about the experiences of other races and ethnicities, whereas blacks are encouraged to self-indulgently obsess about being black.
On average, black writers are more likely to have a limited worldview. I hope that changes in the future, but for now, I”d sooner trust a white writer to be in charge of a movie or TV show about slavery than I would a black writer to craft a movie or TV show about, say, the Irish potato famine.
Consider it another brutal truth in an exceedingly brutal business.