Monday, December 5, 2011

Still On Representation

This past weekend, I saw Stick Fly, a play produced by Alicia Keys, featuring Dule Hill, Mekhi Phifer, and Tracie Thoms. I can't say that I loved it, or that I even thought it was *good*, but I am absolutely glad I got to see it. Out of the literally hundreds of shows on Broadway, there are about *three* featuring (or written by) PoC.

As I mentioned, I wasn't crazy about some of the things in this play (for a show about family, I would have included mothers on the stage, and I would not have silenced a woman for speaking truth, but that's just me), but I truly appreciated this writer's humor, characterization, psychological depth, and frank dialogue on race dynamics, class, and colorism among the African-American elite. It's her perspective, her contribution, and I can respect that.

As I thought about it later, I wondered again, what it would be like to see more representations of PoC, in all our myriad expressions, on center screen, on the main stage, in the spotlight. How differently would we navigate life? What new possibilities would we conjure up? What new opportunities would we see that now elude us?

Even after multiple shining reviews in other cities, Stick Fly took almost six years to make it to Broadway for lack of funding and support. I thought about how many wonderful, brilliant stories there are out there that will never see the light of day because there is no financial backing for them. This story was not how I would have written a story about family, but it was a good story that deserved to be on stage -- on Broadway -- nonetheless. How many others are out there just like it, waiting for a producer's approval, an editor's nod, a bookstore's/reviewer's stamp? And how many will never get that nod because the person reading/viewing the story doesn't relate to it, or simply can't see themselves in it?

And then, this morning, I read this post on Zoetrope, about the "dead girl" look on some YA book covers, and I was reminded, once again, that the struggle for representation continues on all fronts.

But I was heartened by this BBC article about Indian youth wanting to see their own faces on stage. Whereas before, the preference was for white faces on the stage, young Indians now want to see their own images and values reflected back to them, in all their unique beauty and complexity. And the result is a uniquely Indian sound, exploding onto the Indie music scene.

History has shown us that independent thinkers/musicians/artists have paved the way for sweeping social and cultural change. I think we're in the midst of some of that same sweeping change here, too, with the balance of power shifting. It's we're on the cusp of something very significant, very important. It's slow going, yes, but I'm in it for the long haul.

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