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How to Define One's Fate in Hollywood

November 12, 1994

As a young African American writer, I journeyed to Los Angeles two years ago, determined to make my mark in the entertainment industry. Since then I have struggled as most others in this business have, always balancing the pitfalls against my belief that my talent would be the defining prerequisite of any success that I might garner. As I read David Milch's comments (" 'NYPD Blue' Figure Tries to Clarify Race Remarks," Nov. 10), the cold dose of reality doused my face. I was wrong. My blackness will be the defining prerequisite of my fate. And we all know what that means.

It astounds me that Milch, the co-creator of "NYPD Blue" and a three-time winner of the Humanitas Award, has so little knowledge of the effect of words: "I'm racist." "None of the black writing was any good." "A black has to experience more anger and self-division in order . . . to write about the culture."

These are your words, Mr. Milch. It is arrogant to pronounce what life experiences another writer must accumulate before his work is considered good. It is especially arrogant for you to do so about a race and culture that is not your own.

Tell me this, Mr. Milch, how does an African American writer come to work for you? You explain that you do not believe in affirmative action for writers. If a Jewish writer and a black writer came to you for the same job, you would choose the Jewish writer. Why? Simply because "Jews tend to do very well in this business." Your words, Mr. Milch.

I am not asking for a handout, but, by the same token, my race has nothing to do with the quality of my work. That is not called political correctness. It is equality.

What I find most ironic is that after all of his "honesty," Milch seems to be backtracking in the statement he gave The Times. He has even agreed to look at the work of other black writers.

Mr. Milch, if this is, as The Times suggests, an attempt to avert a possible protest: Don't bother. You've already admitted the truth and I've already decided to stop watching your show.

VERNON D. SANDERS

Los Angeles

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