This is part two of a series examining three contemporary American plays that feature interracial relationships. I ended part one with this question:
Does the fact that the two “victims” in the story; Jory and Amir are people of color make it easier for the audience to forgive Emily? Is it easier for audiences to see people of color harmed physically or emotionally? Is this the theatrical equivalent of the Black character always being the first person to get killed in an action movie?
I think it is. Consider Jane; the White protagonist in the play This. Jane has sex with her best friend Marrell’s husband. The audience is asked to quickly overlook the fact that Jane betrayed her best friend and follow the rest of Jane's journey to the end of the play with empathy. Marrell is never seen again; sacrificed for the plot much like the Black man who doesn't last five minutes in the beginning of the first Jurassic Park.
Stereotypes are reinforced when each of the women in This, Disgraced and Good People are critical, dissatisfied with their relationships, written as comic relief and then ultimately cheated on by their White husband. The history between Black women and White men in America dating back to slavery is mired in violence, rape and murder.
What are the inevitable reverberations when a White male character perpetuates emotional violence on a Black woman in a contemporary piece? There is a cost in that choice. Does it move the conversation on race forward or keep it stuck?
Disgraced is written by Ayad Akhtar a Pakistani-American. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play. Good People was nominated for Best Play and was written by David Lindsay-Abaire who is White. Melissa James Gibson who wrote This is White. It was heralded as “the best new play to open Off Broadway” by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times. I wonder if they received any feedback from Black women as they were developing the plays.
Three successful plays with the same narrative in relation to the Black characters. The plays have been widely produced across the country as well as internationally. Yet, there is not another widely produced play that serves as a counterpoint. Does that in turn make the story of the dysfunctional, unsuccessful interracial relationship the default narrative?
In part three I will share my personal experiences playing the roles of Jory and Marrell which were roles I enjoyed playing. I'll also offer The Diversity Test a series of questions that challenges playwrights to write authentic, diverse characters that contribute to changing the narrative and moving it ahead.
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