Outside of therapy, it’s generally frowned upon to hash out your parental woes (metaphorical or otherwise) in a room full of people. However in the case of 29-year-old Joshua Duckworth, doing just that earned him his first TV writing credit.
Duckworth, a Black Los Angeles native who now works in Hollywood as a devil’s advocate of sorts, was initially hired as a writer’s assistant on Netflix’s hit series “Lucifer.”
“It was surreal,” Duckworth says. “I’ve been to table reads before while working my way up the ladder. I’ve envisioned a lot of things, but never myself in a room with a script, that I took part in writing, being read.”
The second half of Season 5, premiering May 28, deals with a long-running point of contention throughout the series; Lucifer (Tom Ellis) and his unholy disdain for his absentee father, God, (played by Dennis Haysbert).
It’s a wonder what exactly went into conveying a millenia’s long resentment and translating that onto the page. “We all took a piece of our own relationships with our fathers, or a father figure,” Duckworth explains. “That’s such a big part of [the arc] for Lucifer. His father is his father but he hasn’t been the father figure for him. And that’s really what’s created the divide for them in terms of not allowing them to be as close as they should be.”
“Resting Devil Face,” Duckworth’s joint episode, teleplayed by Aiyana White, and co-written by Mira Z. Barum and Rick Lopez Jr., humorously tackles the serious rift between father and son, as they are forced to team up together in a drug sting operation.
Even with the veil of witty dialogue and quick comebacks, the pain seeps through; so does the unrelenting guilt of a dad realizing it might be too late to reconnect with his son. Duckworth explains that finding the right voice for God was a journey in itself, as the writer’s room played with different facets of who they thought God was. But ultimately, when they watched Haysbert’s performances, “he really just became God.”
“It was surreal to write this hearty episode for Tom Ellis and Dennis Haysbert, [the latter] being someone I just grew up watching,” Duckworth says. “Joe [Henderson] and Ildy [Modrovich] were so gracious to give us this chance. It turned out to be a good episode of television, if I can say so myself.”
As for how the writer’s assistant ended up with a writer’s credit, he cites the supportive showrunners, as well as the collaborative and inclusive environment of the writer’s room. “I remember when I first came on,” Duckworth says, “I asked my Black friends if they’d heard of ‘Lucifer.’ Most hadn’t. When I became a writer’s assistant and got to a position where the writers felt comfortable with me pitching, we covered an episode about a Black kid who goes to a private school but lives in the hood.”
That episode, Season 4’s “Super Bad Boyfriend,” ended up being integral to the series as its first foray into racial profiling and injustice. The series’ final season—its sixth—will follow Amenadiel’s (DB Woodside) police academy training and explore aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, inspired by the George Flyod protests last summer. Duckworth notes that he is excited he can contribute at work and share his own experiences to tell compelling Black stories on TV.
“It was amazing to work with everyone, to depict things that have happened in my life or to people that I love onscreen, and then watch how the demographic of ‘Lucifer’ has grown to include more people of color,” Duckworth says.
And what does Duckworth have to say to aspiring young writers of color, trying to make a splash in the big Hollywood pond? “The stories that you want to tell are likely adjacent to something someone across the world or someone you know is going through,” he says. “Stick to what’s in your heart and what makes you unique. Tell those stories.”
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