I may simply have too much time on my hand since my search for a full-time job has thus far not been successful and I’m not deep in the heart of writing a play. I’ve got too much time to think. And watch European films on Netflix while drinking wine. And what I’ve been thinking about the play I both want to write and don’t want to write about American slavery. This push and pull has made it very slow going. I want to write a play that captures the humiliation of being owned and I want it to be a story about the limitlessness of human cruelty, family, love, strength of will, and courage. I also want there to be a heart-breaking love story. I don’t necessarily want it to be a story about “black people”. Because in some ways that’s very limiting. It feels a little like having to drink from a certain water fountain or use a certain toilet. “Stay in your lane, black woman, stay in your lane.” But of course I want to see a stage filled with black people. I’m hungry for that. So. A dilemma.
I’ve also been thinking about the invisible shackles I feel as a black female artist trying to create something that is meaningful and that will touch people in a way that is not simply about revisiting the horrific drama of slavery and its effects. Where are the stories by people of color and / or women that are about something bigger than the bodies they inhabit? Why are these stories not allowed to be shared with the world? I’m thinking of the Lars Von Trier film MELANCHOLIA I recently watched and how it touched me in a (dare I say it?) universal way. It was existentialism – why are we all here? – at its sharpest point. And it was a beautiful film. Still, these days it’s impossible for me not to notice the color of every single person in the film. White. Of course. Because existential concern feels white; white people are given the luxury of worrying about bigger things in some way, while people of color and women (both of which I AM) seem to be destined to worry about things that at this point feel overwrought and cliche and almost ridiculous. Those who are not white men are often relegated to worrying about the fact that they are NOT white men – or white women, for that matter – and all of the privilege still attached to that. Black people – women, specifically – are generally not allowed to simply be depressed. Just because. We’re not allowed to be complicated and thoughtful and cruel and generous and all of the things that a person CAN be. We’re allowed to be angry. And funny. Sassy, even.
I love Chekhov and I also resent the fact that I love Chekhov. I admire certain individuals and groups in the downtown New York theater scene – of which I am a small part – even though I’m annoyed by the fact that it’s usually white faces that I’m going to see. These white faces speak in the name of universality because they CAN – they have that privilege. They can have a white playwright, a white director, white actors, white designers, etc. and NOT be accused of having some sort of “agenda”. Black bodies onstage is generally interpreted as a “black play” and, in my opinion, is “ghetto-ized” as such. When will people of color be seen as telling “universal” stories? When can they drink from any water fountain that they want to and sit at any counter? Believe me, this does not mean that I don’t want to see black artists onstage, backstage, behind the camera, in front of the camera, signing the checks, writing the stories – I DO. I simply question the kinds of stories that black people in America are allowed to tell.
I want a seat at the front of the bus.