“Miss Saigon Lies” posts from the Don’t Buy Miss Saigon campaign have been making the rounds on Tumblr lately, and this got me thinking about Encanta and whether I am telling lies in my play too.
Here’s something I wanted to talk about every time a movie comes out that shows us an “empowered” White girl and says how she’s some sort of role model for all women because she shows that women don’t have to be fragile or delicate.
As much as I loved Brave and despised Snow White and the Huntsman, people saying this sort of thing really, really irritates me.
Know why it irritates me? Because so many women don’t get to be seen as fragile, delicate, or vulnerable. Most of these women are women who look like me.
I’ve been a fan of Les Misérables since the 90′s.
Like, a big fan. When I was a kid I had 5, count ‘em, 5 different cast recordings.
As long as I’ve been a fan, every production that’s striven to be a definitive cast has included people of color. The Tenth Anniversary Dream Cast (meant to be the best of the best) included Lea Salonga as Eponine. The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Concert included not only Salonga as Fantine, but Norm Lewis (whom we all love in Scandal) as Javert and Iranian-Canadian Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras. The Complete Symphonic Recording, which strove to be international as well as definitive, cast Kaho Shimada from the Japanese production as Eponine. Les Mis has been around for a long time; it’s been performed in a huge number of countries; and more than many other musical theatre productions it’s understood to be about content and story instead of about people’s skin color.
I recently completed a draft of my new play, Encanta. I like to describe it as Kirikou and the Sorceress meets Moonstruck on the island from The Tempest.
The story itself is pretty simple. Penzima is a pirate who washed ashore after a storm sank her ship. After making fast friends with best buddies Armando and Carlos, she soon meets Katrina, a powerful sorceress feared and hated by everyone. Sparks fly, and Penzima is immediately smitten with Katrina, who is in turn drawn to the charming, witty Penzima. Penzima vows to show Katrina that she is worthy of her love, but will that be enough?
What really excites me about Encanta is that it’s a play about the magic of love, lust, and romance that focuses on LGBTQ people of color. All the characters are Latin@ or Afro-Latin@.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but aside from being a joy to write, Encanta breaks the mold for “acceptable” narratives for LGBTQ people and people of color. You know the ones: the pain porn, the stereotypical bullshit, the Sassy Gay/Black/Latin@ Friend who has no live of their own. You get the idea.
Encanta is all about people who are being silly and crazy and in love and using magic who just happen to be LGBTQ people of color. Too often, we only get to suffer because it’s “inspiring,” and we only be funny when who we are is the butt of the joke.
Fuck that shit. I want my escapist fantasy too. I want passion and romance too. I want my happily ever after too. And since the powers that be seem more interested in not scaring off straight people and white folks, I made Encanta for myself.
So recently your truly achieved a milestone here at Ars Marginal in hitting my 100th post. It’s pretty cool to think about because Ars Marginal has truly grown and evolved. So to honor the epic accomplishment I decided to do a one-on-one interview with our fearless leader, my internet wife, RVCBard, who coincidentally is celebrating her 25th birthday (again) this weekend. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOO!!!!
As the interview will soon prove, there’s a reason why the two of us aren’t allowed to get together without adult supervision and a SWAT Team in place.
(Originally posted at Love’s Labors Lost)
With the $1 Play Project underway (and if you have 60 seconds and $1.00, you really should give what you can), and way too much to do in not enough time, I want to take a moment (read: procrastinate) and talk about what it’s like and what it means to create art from a perspective of intersectionality.
Before buzzwords like “intersectionality” came along, a lot of people assumed that womanhood was White, Blackness was male, and both were straight. When Black feminists and womanists proclaimed that All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some Of Us Are Brave, they created a new paradigm for examining race, gender, and sexuality that centered on the lives of Black women.
When I started writing Tulpa, or Anne&Me in late 2009, I had no idea I’d be doing the same thing for theatre. As much as I like to fantasize otherwise, I’m not really all that brave. I hate pain (receiving or inflicting it), and I am more easily hurt than I often let on. I’m much more prone to shyness, anxiety, depression, and exhaustion than my online persona indicates. My outspokenness about racism, sexism, and homophobia says more about their magnitude and the peril they pose to human beings than about any particular courage or wisdom on my part.
So when I set out to put down on paper some of the many thoughts and feelings I have when I try to relate to White women about race and gender (all from the perspective of a woman who loves women), it wasn’t because I was intentionally trying to provoke people. It initially started out on my LiveJournal on something of a lark that channeled my infatuation with Anne Hathaway into something more meaningful. Since the discussions about race I was having with real White women were often so lacking, why not make up the conversations I wanted to have?
As Black women, we are constantly being asked to hide away or tear off chunks of who we are to make us safer for consumption. When we are with women, we’re supposed to magically forget we are Black. When we are Black, we’re supposed to ignore our womanhood. And we’d better keep that queer shit deep in the closet if we know what’s good for us. Yet in Tulpa, all three of these identities are necessary to fully understanding the characters and the story.
Tulpa, or Anne&Me is not Intro to Intersectionality. The dialogue is pretty exclusively about race. But it’s a queer woman’s experience of race and how it impacts her most personal moments. The play focuses on an intimate relationship. But it’s a relationship between women trying to maintain that intimacy in the face of racism and what that means for both of them.
“Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde once said. Even prior to reading Sister Outsider, I may have sensed that this was true. As much as I hate being the center of attention or the object of scrutiny, the alternative – my silence – was even worse. My silence would mean allowing someone other than myself to define what my life means or what it should mean. My silence would mean becoming a shadow not only of myself but to myself. My silence would mean accepting my own dehumanization.
Despite the fact that I live as a queer Black woman in my queer Black woman body, as an artist I often wrestle with a sense that my life as I live it diminishes my art because it’s somehow not as universal. But creating Tulpa, or Anne&Me cured me of that.
My art does not happen despite my queer Black woman self but directly because of it.
My queer Black woman self is not an obstacle to my humanity – it’s the key to truly acknowledging and understanding it.
A few months ago, four POC novelists held a round table discussion which tackled the challenges that authors of color have to face in both the publishing industry as well as the media in general in terms of race, gender and orientation.
With diversity in media, in particularly in terms of queer content, an LGBTQ-themed round table was recently conducted. This time it was opened up to playwrights, comic book creators and artists of various storytelling mediums.
Participants submitted questions and topics they wanted to address. What was interesting reading the responses while composing this round table. The participants only saw their own responses, so the answers often made for fascinating reads. With an eclectic mix of writers from very different backgrounds, sometimes there would be seven vastly different answers and in certain instances, the answers were unanimous and almost verbatim.
One thing was certain, this was definitely a conversation that has been long overdue, and certainly one that needs to continue.
Seven storytellers, one powerful discussion.
The play I wrote, Tulpa, or Anne&Me, has at its emotional center an interracial friendship and possible romance between a queer Black artist and Anne Hathaway*.
(*In the sense that Being John Malkovich is really about John Malkovich.)
Strangely enough, it’s only been recently that I’ve started thinking about how that core relationship fits into the portrayals of interracial relationships in film, TV, and other media. Representations of interracial relationships are particularly revealing when it comes to how people understand race.