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I don’t believe he brought me this far, to leave me

Brother August Wilson gave us a beautiful, daring call to arms in 1997. If you have not read it, please do. It is a manifesto and strikes the heart in many ways.

The Ground on Which I stand

It is all worth reading, however this part hit me the hardest. Who controls art and access and what determines agency?

The American Theater is not the property of any one race or culture as some people think. To have a theater that promotes the values of black Americans, our hard-won survival and prosperity, a theater that addresses ways of life that are peculiar to us, that investigates our personalities and all manners of our social intercourse and [End Page 485] philosophical thought, is not to be outside of the American Theater or outside of Western Theater any more than Ibsen’s and Chekhov’s explorations of Swedish and Russian culture makes them outsiders. Or David Mamet’s insightful and provocative explorations of white American culture make him an outsider.
Yet, despite the extent to which blacks influence the society, contribute to its spiritual welfare, and defend and uphold the principles of the Founding Fathers, our influence and contributions are not recognized by any gain in material culture that would allow us to further develop our arts and establish control over its dissemination. We do not have any theaters of comparable size, quality, and financial resources as our white counterparts that would allow us to support our artists and offer them meaningful avenues to grow and develop their talents and make the contributions to the body of world art of which they are capable. What we have instead is a furtherance of white hegemony and a truncation of our possibilities. Money spent “diversifying” the theater, developing black audiences for white institutions, developing ideas of colorblind casting, only strengthen and solidify this stranglehold by making our artists subject to the paternalistic notions of white institutions, allowing them to dominate and control the art.

BOOM. There it is. The gatekeepers of commercial theatre continue to be white, and that determines what is produced, supported and promoted. What people of color are left with are the once a season black shows. You know, when a regional theatre does an August Wilson play, or Ain’t Misbehavin. What’s interesting is that regional theaters usually choose the shows that fit the old tropes-Tragic Mulatto/Sad heroic Negro or the Entertaining happy black minstrel.

It stands to reason, white audiences have loved these story lines for decades, since our freedom and before, but especially since…
It’s no coincidence that Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, cast an actor as satan who resembles our president…
Obama or Satan?

Sure they feigned ignorance and pulled the segment of the film, but the message was clear. Anytime we as a people get a step or leg up, the powers that be ridicule and set up stumbling blocks…

Much like Tyler Perry and his empire. His last film has made 16 million dollars so far, I am sure in DVD sales he will recoup, however out of 16 feature films he has made, this is his second to lowest opening. Not bad. What other recent director working has had 14 box office hits in a row? Yet he is now characterized as losing his touch, a failure, and finished…
Perry Lost His Touch

I differ with him on characterization, some accuse him of selling out, making new minstrel shows for white audiences. I can’t decide. I go back and forth with him on his portrayals. Some seem authentic and some seem yes, “coonish”. However he is producing work for people of color…

SO what is the answer? How do we produce our own work, yet also integrate in a true sense white theaters to see everyone’s story as the American story and not just belonging to white people? How do we get seen on American stages with our stories more than one month a year during February…

That is the point of Wilson’s argument I find so compelling. It’s not about Wilson being for black supremacy as some have claimed, it is about the fact that the American story belongs to everyone, not just white people, so if you call yourself an American regional theatre, brown stories should be up there with yellow stories and red stories, more than one month out of the year, and more types of stories should be told. I think part of the solution is continuing to take on the mantle of Wilson. Keep fighting the fight of speaking out speaking up and making a space for people of color. That means many different things, writing new works, reinterpreting others, (thank you Suzan Lori Parks) and demanding a seat at the table of the American theatre. Of course my mother raised me that if folk don’t want you, don’t stay around, make your own way. That is sage advice for personal growth, however when federal funds are given for these theaters that produce mostly white written, directed, and cast productions… that’s when it gets beyond being included at the table, and gets into tax funds and equity/allocation of public resources…

So I will continue to ask the hard questions and seek you out for the answers. I don’t have all the answers but I do know one thing.

If you are only telling white stories, you aren’t telling the whole story of America, but you’re taking all of Americas money to do it…

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2014 by in Black, celebrity and tagged , , , , .
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