Is two better than one?
Last week I saw “Barbecue” at the Intiman theater where one conceit was telling the same story through a lens of whiteness, and through the lens of blackness. “Barbecue” was story of a down on its luck family trying to save their drug addicted sister. The play started with an all white family planning an intervention, and after the blackout, the story continued, but the same characters were now all Black. It was interesting how race shaped the narrative. I won’t ruin the rest of the play, but I began wondering how a paradigm shift would impact other stories and possibly boost empathy, in audiences.
Then I saw Wonder Woman.
It was an enjoyable movie (quite enjoyable actually), and examined feminism through the lens of whiteness. The first time we meet Diana Prince she is being sought after by her black mammy. The next black woman we meet is a brute that speaks no words but is beaten with a large bat, yet feels no pain. That is the extent of women of color in that film.
Wonder Woman fights for humanity, but not all humans. This of course, is fine, but I wonder what would happen if the same story were told with black women. Black heroine chased by her white nanny. Big white woman hit with bat and says no words. Then black Wonder Woman battles the evils of African genocide and saves us from 500 years of oppression.
Or, would she fight alongside the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II? Would we see the character the same way, or would she be too militant? Would the movie get cancelled like ‘Underground,’ on WGN? Would white women be upset because they couldn’t see themselves in the character? Would the actress be chastised for supporting Black Lives Matter? Would it be a feminist movie or a black movie? Would my daughters leave the theater looking proud, instead of confused? Would she fall in love with an abolitionist? Would a love story even exist? Would Ares be the Egyptian god, Set?
Would young people still make art?
Would it matter?
Would there still be educational inequity?
What does representation mean, in 2017?
I guess we will find out next February…
James Miles is the Executive Director of the Seattle- based Arts Corps, an organization whose mission it is to unlock the creative power of youth through arts education and community collaboration. A Master Teaching Artist who has worked in arts education for more than 15 years. He has facilitated workshops and designed curriculum for the New Victory Theater, Roundabout Theatre, Disney Theatrical Group, Theatre for a New Audience, Center of Arts Education, BAX, Brooklyn Arts Council, Opening Act, and (Out)Laws & Justice. He has worked as an actor, an accountant, a comedian, and a model.
Written By: James Miles