Students hold ‘die-in’ over use of blackface in a play … but there’s a kicker

Students hold ‘die-in’ over use of blackface in a play … but there’s a kicker
A die-in staged at an Apple store in New York in 2014

How seriously opposed are students at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) to the latest invasion of their safe space, which is a performance of a musical in which some of the actors wear blackface?

So much so that they have disrupted the performance of this virulently racist production with a protest.

Just one small problem: One of the authors of the play is George C. Wolfe, a black man. Wolfe, a graduate of the historically black Kentucky State University, won a Tony Award a in 1996 for his direction of the musical “Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk” — a play which chronicles black history from slavery to the present.

The play that is the object of protest at UT is “The Wild Party,” co-written by Michael John LaChiusa. It is based on a narrative poem of the same title written in 1928  by black poet Joseph Moncure March. Set during the 1920s vaudeville era, both the poem and play contains scenes of bloody violence, group sex, and even rape.

But its two scenes where a white character dons blackface that have some students in an uproar. Several of them walked into UT’s Oscar G. Brockett Theatre and staged a “die-in” Thursday night, lying on the ground as thought they were gunned down. This form of protest has become popular since the death of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Mo. At least one protester wore a piece of black tape over her mouth reading “Blackface,” suggesting the play’s use of blackface was silencing non-white voices on campus.

One of the protesters, Fallon Christian, told The Daily Texan recently (before the die-in) that it was “bold and inconsiderate” for the play to include blackface. Said Christian:

Blackface, for me, represents the beginning of a very horrific and damaging practice. It sort of made it so that black people couldn’t even portray themselves as we fully are. Like we were distilled down to this one depiction and it created other caricatures that inform how people see us today still.

Christian faulted the play’s producers for not including a trigger warning for blackface while promoting the play.

The theater department is refusing to back down, though, and insists the play will be performed as intended by its creators.

“It’s critical to understand that we are producing the play as written,” said UT theater department chair Brant Pope to The Daily Texan. “The writers use blackface in this play as one of many elements that point to a lack of a moral compass in both the character and the world he inhabits.”

Pope, though, said the protest was still the fault of his department for not communicating better with the black community.

“For a number of our students we were able to engage in deep and critical conversations about the play’s content,” he said. “But it’s clear that we needed to have reached out to other populations in our department. We are in conversation now about how to improve these processes around our productions.”

This report, by Blake Neff, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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