Broadway World: 2015 saw a rise in the discussion about diversity, the way that different members of society are portrayed in mainstream art and have access to mainstream art creation. Whether focused on gender, sexual orientation, skin tone, or physical disability, the conversation that mainstream art must represent the whole of society – in both subject and artistic participants – has attracted widespread attention. Locally, StageRaw.com had a symposium on the topic only last month. Nationally, Howlround’s Jubilee statement was the subject of much debate. A search on Footlights reveals just how pervasive the discussion has become.
And now, at the end of 2015, the discussion opens even wider as Tonya Pinkins leaves Mother Courage and Her Children after a month of previews and just days before it was to open on January 7, 2016. Pinkins details the reasons for her action in an extensive statement entitled Who Loses, Who Thrives when White Creatives Tell Black Stories? Her statement suggests the new hashtag, #BlackPerspectivesMatter:
Twice this year (but too many times in my career) my perspective as a Black woman was dismissed in favor of portraying the Black woman, through the filter of the White gaze. Regrettably, I must exit Classic Stage Company’s MOTHER COURAGE.
When Black bodies are on the stage, Black perspectives must be reflected. This is not simply a matter of “artistic interpretation”; race and sex play a pivotal role in determining who holds the power to shape representation. A Black female should have a say in presentation a Black female on stage.
Today, in response, the production’s director, Brian Kulick, issued a statement of his own:
As Tonya and I worked on the production the question became how specific does one have to become to evoke the Congo? Do we need place names, do we need to rewrite narration to make this leap or can it live in the realm of images, music and the given circumstances of the actors? I gravitated toward what I would call a more “open” approach, Tonya was longing for specifics. As we kept working on the play, this question and how to answer it became louder and louder to each of us to a point where I think we couldn’t hear each other anymore.
One thing is for certain: The narrative about diversity in the arts will be expanding in 2016.