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Blackface on Broadway

Nayaba Arinde | 4/12/2011, 5:25 p.m.
Blackface on Broadway

"I play Mr. Bones, one of the end men in the standard minstrel show. He is a white Southern bigot."

There is no pan stick though, no white face, Domingo admits. "It's a deconstruction of the minstrel tradition."

Responding to the Freedom Party's ongoing protest, he said, "It seems to be a controversy not based on anything. You can't have a protest by the Freedom Party unless you saw the show. It's really unfortunate because the piece is pursuing dialogue about race and history.

"You must at least see the piece," said Domingo. "They are more enraged because it is a white creative team. They think the Black actors have gone into this blindly, but we all had a part in creating [the piece] and believe 100 percent that this is the best way to convey the horrors of the Scottsboro Boys using aspects of the minstrel form. We actually deconstruct the minstrel form. We are actively trying to tell the piece with integrity compassion and love.

"In order for the Freedom Party to come to the table, you have to know what is being served. I just wish there was a dialogue."

Barron was unmoved. "We don't have to see the play to see that our history is being mocked," he said. "Several of our supporters did see the play and brought back an intelligent analysis of what they saw. I don't have to see the play to see what this is. Others who are not even with us came out and were outraged."

According to Domingo, the daughter of Clarence Norris (one of the nine) and his grandson came and "loved and appreciated the show. Denzel Washington came last night [Tuesday] and said he truly believed in the show. We're not using the minstrel form to make fun. Minstrel was used to make a caricature of Black people. We're not doing that. The Scottsboro case was presented as a minstrel show, as entertainment. We show the nightmarish quality of racism."

When AmNews reporters and readers have gone to the show, reports have come back that the majority white audience laughed at points they found incredibly offensive.

"We're not saying people should laugh at this," said Domingo, adding that there is no accounting for what a person finds amusing. "We are saying that people should look at this as the circus atmosphere [around the case]."

Asked if some topics, like being falsely accused of rape, the prospect of the electric chair, Jim Crow and associated issues, were off limits in terms of a musical and comedy, Domingo replied, "Well, you have artistic license," and said the show was far from a comedy, but "we couldn't handle it if it was told in the dramatic way. You have to see the show to see why we do what we have."

He went on to say, "A discussion about race is so difficult." In any production, scenes are set up where the audience is supposed to laugh or applaud. However, the actor said that if the audience is laughing at the end of a scene telling a poignant point about racism in 1930s America, "then I know they didn't get it."