Soul: A Play About Marvin Gaye

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With great excitement I went to see SOUL, a play by Roy Williams, that is playing at Hackney Empire until July 3rd.

To begin I must write that the acting was solid. Especially impressive performances were offered by the two actors who played Gaye: Keenan Munn-Francis as the adolescent Gaye, and Nathan Ives-Moiba as the adult Gaye. The actors didn’t sing often, but when they did, they captivated everyone in the audience, leaving us all wanting for more. And the gospel music was piercing, as was its timing.

Less impressive were some directorial choices. There is a moment in the play where Marvin Gay Sr. is caught wearing women’s clothing and a wig, and the entire scene was set up for comedy, including the character – unnecessarily – stripping so that the audience sees his wearing a bustier and slip. In some sense the scene was successful considering most of the audience laughed; some even continued to do so several minutes later. The humorous bit was lost on me.

There was also a decision by the director, or perhaps the playwright, to emphasize a general feeling of sympathy for both of Gaye’s parents. Marvin Gay Sr. shot his son in cold blood and, at least in public, showed little remorse. He was known to be an abusive father, both physically and emotionally. Due to the playwright choosing to try to cover so much of Gaye’s life, the severity of this abuse comes short. The audience even chuckled during one scene where Gaye stands up to his father as a teenager and is consequently kicked out of the house. That is at least partially due to a lack of context. More importantly, Alberta Gay’s decision to stay with her husband over all the years of abuse and infidelity are illustrated without commentary which is highly problematic.

Of course any performance piece that takes on a legend such as Marvin Gaye creates high expectations that are almost impossible to match. SOUL is entertaining and offers a small glimpse into the life of one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century.

UK Day of Action: #InHerHonour #SayHerName

InHerHonourWhen life gives Black Women, Girls & Femmes lemons, we make lemonade!!

 

Join us on Thursday 19th May at Speakers’ Corner, London, and lift up our loved ones #InHerHonour and remember those lost as we #SayHerName. We must resist the silences that shroud the deaths of Black Women, Girls & Femmes. We must stand up and speak out. In this healing and powerful action, we will make it known that we are here, we are powerful, and we will not be silenced. Join us as we make and share lemonade with each other, for each other – as our ancestors did many times before – as we drink, we will listen to our stories and hear our voices, we will sing, dance, heal and hug away the pain and embrace our power within. Direct action is about more than fighting powers that seek to oppress and hurt us. It is about coming together, to care, to build strength and community. This action is an act of self care, for ALL our sisters (cis, trans and intersex). It is to lift up, unite, connect, heal and build. Join us as we say: “I love myself. Every single thing. From the colour of my skin. To my soul energy”. Action Schedule 18:00-20:30

  • 18:00-19:00 IN HER HONOUR
    Making Lemonade, Healing/Opening Rituals/ Lifting each other up and naming Black Women, Girls & Femmes who have given for our liberation. 19:00-20:00 SAY HER NAME (cis, trans & intersex)
    Open mic for Black Women, Black Girls & Black Femmes
    Poems, Speeches & Words* from Sisters, Mothers, Aunties, Lovers, Daughters who have lost their beloved’s
    Self-Care Circle & Chanting from all those standing up and working towards justice for ALL Black women, girls and femmes. *We have some phenomenal women joining us. We will not be releasing their names, as we want to honour those whose names we seldom hear – but know that you will be in the presence of pure #BlackGirlMagic 20:00-20:30 BLACK LIVES MATTER Healing/Closing Rituals/Chants

    WHY THIS ACTION. WHY THIS DAY?
    Last year over 20 cities in the U.S. participated in a national day of action to lift up Black women, girls and femmes lived experiences of state violence. This year, on Thursday May 19th, #BlackLivesMatter, BYP 100 and Project South are mobilising together, in unity, to hold a 2nd National #SayHerName Day of Action to End State Violence Against Black Women, Girls and Femmes. In solidarity, a coalition of activists in the UK will be holding our own national action to show up for our US movement family, as well as lifting up our stories and amplifying our UK voice – providing a UK context when it comes to government cuts to domestic violence services in the UK, violence against women (cis, trans* & intersex), State and institutional violence against Black women, girls and femmes – so that we can deepen our (inter)national conversation and participate in collective activism that heals and gives a safe space for all sisters (cis, trans, intersex) voices to be heard.

DEAR UBER: MONIO WITH THE PASSAT IS RACIST

Since Uber has stuck by the notion that it has no liability for the behavior of its drivers, I feel it my obligation to write this post. All of this happened in London, England.

On 12 December I ordered an Uber to transport myself and some items to a venue where I was holding an event. To be specific: I had a small hand-luggage sized suitcase, 36 rubber buckets stacked, and a small box of miscellaneous items. I had situated all the items next to the front door. When I saw that the car had arrived, I waved to the driver to pull up directly at the door. Monio, the driver, got out of his car and, immediately said “I’m not a removals van”, to which I replied “and this isn’t a removal”.

Without looking at or greeting me, he opened the trunk. I placed my suitcase and the box in the trunk. He became visibly agitated, and I asked him to lose his attitude, as I wasn’t doing anything outside of the boundaries of Uber’s service and I was also still treating him politely. That apparently set him off, because he closed the trunk which would have closed on my hands, if I had not reacted fast enough. He then climbed back into his car and took off. I yelled loudly; I banged on the back of the car and on the trunk. I even opened the backseat door which led him to speed up, so that I couldn’t get into the car.

Luckily the porter of my building witnessed everything and called the police. By the time I had walked back up the street to my building, the police were on the phone. Since it was an Uber, I had a record of the driver’s vehicle and license plate. I gave the police all of that information. They explained to me all the steps that I would need to take, who needed to be called, and what protocol was. In order to offer drivers the benefit of the doubt, the incident wouldn’t be registered as a criminal offense immediately, because sometimes taxi drivers forget that customers have something in the rear of the vehicle. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but I understood the reasoning.

Uber provides no emergency contact details on its app or website, so I filed a complaint on the app and also tweeted to support. The tweet garnered a swift response but only sending me an e-mail address to contact. My wallet which contained my passport, my bank cards, etc. was in that suitcase. What good will an e-mail do me?

Somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes later, I suppose it occurred to this driver with a 4.7-star rating, that he had f*cked up, because he returned. The porter met him at the driveway and brought all of my things back into the building. Everything was accounted for. However, in that amount of time, who knows what he could’ve done with my documents. Not to mention the fact that he now clearly knows where I live.

Several hours later someone from Uber tried calling me, but it was right before the doors opened at my event, so I wasn’t able to take the call. (If I’d have known it was Uber, I would’ve taken the time.) They wrote me an e-mail and gave me a call the following day. In that phone call an Uber employee (do those even exist?), at first, said all of the right things. But after it became clear that I had not been – in their opinion – physically harmed and the incident reported to the police was not yet listed as criminal, the senior manager seemed satisfied to offer me the scripted empty talk with aim of appeasing.

After the holidays I followed up to find out if any action had been taken. I made clear that I would not feel comfortable using the Uber platform if it were possible that I might have to confront Monio again. Here’s how they replied:

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Let me translate: More than likely Monio was suspended from the platform for a hot second but has since been re-instated. And they aren’t willing to admit this openly because, and especially in consideration of the fact, that they are more than controversial in London being targeted by TfL and even the Mayor. Unfortunately there is no Lyft in London, but there are a myriad of other cab services that I am happy to use instead.

The Revival Movie at FRINGE! 15

Revival_12_SFrom 24 November through 29 November, the FRINGE! Queer Film and Arts Fest took place in East London. Last year I wasn’t able to attend, and this year I was also out of town for much of the festival dates, but I was able to schedule that my Meet Up group attend the second screening of Women and the Word: The Revival Movie. A few days before the screening, one of the organizers wrote me that Jade Foster, the executive producer of the film and founder of the tour, would be in attendance and available for Q&A after the screening.

The film is a documentary that follows seven Black women, who travel through the US, beginning in Brooklyn and ending in DC, in a minivan for seven spoken word / poetry / performance shows that are (mostly) held in living rooms. Directed by Sekiya Dorsett a funny, heart-opening, and inspiring story is told in just 90 minutes.

In opening with the incredibly personal and powerful words of Jade Foster, whose delivery effortlessly weaves through emotions of tragedy and triumph, the audience is immediately engaged in this documentary’s story and eager to learn as much as possible about its cast members.

Be Steadwell and her music, both as performed live as well as recorded, set the tone for our journey. Her music, which she describes as queer pop music, feels light, fun and empowering all at once. And many of her lyrics accompany the visual stories being told throughout.

Jonquille Rice aka Solsis is the host of the revival nights, and her style is raw and energizing. She knows how to get the crowd warm before each performance, and she brings the screening audience to laughter as well. Solsis’ side plot, one of trusting her intuition and stepping out on faith, has a very happy ending that is so perfect it could be scripted.

Most rhythmic, most lyric, most prolific were the words of t’ai freedom ford, a New York City high school English teacher. I left the film feeling closest to t’ai, because her poetry lets the audience in, her charm stirred thirst and created groupies, and one destination along the way takes us to meet her family in Atlanta, which is part home for me.

Elizah Turner, the tour manager, seemed to bring just the right amount of chill to the group. While she is a beautiful face to be enjoyed throughout, we don’t hear much from her. Perhaps since she’s normally behind the camera, she was somewhat reserved when in front of it. No matter; the success of this tour is obvious, so she definitely handled business.

This was one of the first public screenings of the film and I feel utterly thankful and thoroughly motivated to continue doing what I do. This film deserves two thumbs up and I hope that it makes all the festival circuit rounds, because there is nothing better than watching Black queer women centered and at the center.

All That Lives: A Missed Opportunity

Yesterday I was invited to a theater production titled All That Lives by Tatty Hennessy. It is part of the Ovalhouse series, First Bites, where they have a few showings of new works-in-development in order to gain feedback and decide whether and how they will support these productions in future seasons.

All That Lives is about the story of Henrietta Lacks, and in the writer’s/director’s words “a true story of immortality, exploitation and what rights we have over our bodies when we die.” If you don’t know the story of Henrietta Lacks, you won’t leave this piece knowing much more either.

The production opens in a way that is engaging, with Kayla Meikle center stage. Meikle plays both Henrietta and a British woman named Gen, who is presumably in modern-day UK and also terminally ill. Her face reveals both intense physical pain as well as an emotional suffering that must be minimized for the sake of survival. The acting is solid, although most of the cast really struggle with sticking what is meant to be a ‘generic’ southern accent. I’m from the southeastern United States, and I have yet to hear a convincing accent on a London stage. But if West End can’t get it right in a major production like Memphis, I certainly will not fault a small production like this one for trying.

It did not take long to recognize, however, that the majority of the cast was white, and those white characters were there to tell the stories of Blacks. And so the cycle continues. More dialogue was spent arguing the case for white medical practitioners:  either in showing that their immoral actions did lead to some good or developing their personal backstories that were seemingly meant to induce sympathy. Give the audience some credit and trust that they can make that call without the obvious nudge.

Some directorial choices are also questionable. Why is the actor who plays Henrietta’s husband, David Lacks, the same person who plays Peter, a member of the legal team at the modern-day medical research firm that is using the same dubious tactics to harvest cells from unknowing minority patients? Is it the desire to abate the role that race played and continues to play in the healthcare system? Why does the actor who plays George Gey, the scientist who successfully developed the HeLa cell line, also play John, the boyfriend of Gen’s daughter, Natasha? Why is it that Gen and John share a bonding moment, but Gen and Natasha never have the stage to themselves, never have the opportunity for intimate mother-daughter connection and end their shared time in conflict?

It isn’t until the final scene of the piece that the audience gets to meet Henrietta, as a person loved and in love, rather than the de-humanized Henrietta – the patient, corpse, or cells. This comes much too late.

In summary, this piece misses the opportunity to tell a Black woman’s story and is instead complicit to Black women’s invisibility.

If you are interested to learn more about Lacks, NPR did a piece on her a few years back, and there is also a NYT bestselling book that details the complexity of the intersections of medicine, ethics and race as well as the wrongdoing Lacks’ family has endured.

In the First Bites series the show will run through Saturday, 24 October, always at 7:45pm.

Freeing the tatas

About two months ago I was doing some time-sensitive freelance work, and, as per usual, waited until the last minute to pack my suitcase for my extended six-week stay in Berlin. I travel so much that I’m a pro at packing. And I also tell myself that it doesn’t matter anyway. If I have my wallet and my passport, everything else is taken care of.

Well this pro-packer conveniently forgot to pack bras, panties, and socks. Of course she did! Those things aren’t next to my wardrobe, and I had 30 minutes. I walked out of my door on the way to the airport and felt that I was forgetting something but wasn’t sure what. It was when I arrived in Berlin that it hit me. I had the one pair of panties that I was wearing. I had no socks, because – summer. And I wasn’t wearing a bra, as I had on one of those cute tank tops with the built-in support. Since I landed so late, there was nothing that could be done until the next day.

Pantie and bra

A fan of going commando, especially in the summer, I didn’t feel rushed to get to the department store. But once I did, I decided to go for the inexpensive variety pack of undies. Finding the nice panties takes me a lot of time and a lot of patience, both of which I was lacking that day, so I bought the panties that you wear when you know no one else is going to get a peek. And I threw in a pack of grannies too; I like to call them moon panties: for the cycle not for my backside. Bras, the more daunting purchase, would have to wait.

Later that day I had a meeting in a feminist art gallery, my reason for being in Berlin. I co-curated an art exhibition and event series dedicated to Black women artists and women artists of color, all to be held and hosted in this gallery. Feminist is not a label with which I clothe myself, mostly because I find it restrictive and exclusive to a certain appearance of woman, but most people would consider me one. While at the gallery I had the brilliant idea to make this whole accident a conscious act: no bra for the duration of my stay and no shaving as the cherry on top. Feminism: Here my roar! Or something like that.

Shaving, or the lack thereof, felt like it would be easy. My legs don’t get shaved but a few times a year anyway. The fine hair on my legs and my dry skin prevent more of that. Bikini waxing is something I’ve scaled back recently so that the march of the ingrown hairs could be defeated once and for all. But the pits. As a cheerleader in middle school it was requested of me to shave, and I’ve happily done so ever since. Not shaving my armpits during summer temps was actually a challenge. The straight hair of all of my nether regions and the salt crystal as deodorant meant that really nothing stood in the way. After three weeks, my hair reached its maximum fluff, and I proudly held my arms up, whether in front of a packed yoga class at Burning Man or in front of an audience at the gallery events. Proudly, consciously, but also aware that it could be a thing. So many of my white feminist friends, especially in Berlin, don’t shave anything. It’s almost like the membership card to the white feminist club. But I don’t know any Black women in Berlin who don’t, at the very least, shave their pits. Or do I?

My assumption was that going without a bra would be easier, require less thought or second guessing. I was wrong. With the help of athleticism and broad shoulders my breasts appear petite yet still large enough that I consider a bra necessary. (Yes, I read the French study on the subject.) I only had two of those nifty support tank tops. But I had a bunch of other tank tops that I wore under blouses and thinner tops in order to round the shape of my breasts so that one might assume I have on a bra. They’re luckily perky all on their own. Some of you might be wondering about nipples. Nipple prints don’t bother me; mine were pierced for eight years. When practicing yoga I use sport tanks that include the built-in support. And in everyday bike riding and general movement, I didn’t miss bras. When I got back to London and my full wardrobe, I even needed a couple of days to remember that I could wear a bra again, if I so desired. I haven’t yet. And I also haven’t shaved yet. I’m trying to remind myself of the cost-benefit-analysis of doing either of those things, regularly and unquestioningly.

Admittedly, there are some fancy outfits that I slay with the help of supported breasts, and I will use bras as accessories as well. The reason it takes me so long to buy them is, because I look for the ones that are perfect for my body’s attitude. But aesthetically I no longer see a difference between my hairless and my hairy arm pits. Some may see this as political, some may not. That’s a luxury of the privileged. Every time I walk out the house, my decisions of going out in a hoodie or heels, locs up or down, bra on or off, pits shaved or not is interpreted by someone somewhere as a statement. Let the statement be this: I decide for me and no one else.