Black Lives, Black Words

Black Lives, Black Words premiered in Chicago in July 2015. This international project has since explored the Black diaspora’s experiences in some of the largest multicultural cities in the world, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Toronto and now London. Over sixty Black writers from the UK, USA, and Canada have each written a short play to address Black issues today. This blog is taken from the introduction to the book, written by Madani Younis, the Artistic Director of The Bush theatre where the pieces were performed last month.


It’s on us. It’s always been on us.

From Claudia Jones to Michael X, from Frank Crichlow to Darcus Howe to Doreen and Neville Lawrence, there is a rich and fierce tradition of resistance that has defined the past century in this great city.

2016 was a significant year in the UK. Following the Brexit vote to take us out of the European Union, few of us could have predicted the steep rise in racially motivated hate crime, or the vitriol that was unleashed on the ‘immigrant’, a term which became a dangerous and charged catch-all and scapegoat. And a term that, in the eyes of the dominant right-wing media, is almost always defined as non-white. That exists outside the bubble of privilege and power occupied by wealthy, white Europeans.

It has been a 12 months in which our world seems to have shrunk around us, to have become smaller and more insular. Many of us who had always called this country home, suddenly began to question what home really meant.

Eight years ago, when the first presidency of an African American was in its infancy, many looked forward to a new horizon, to a post-racial reality. Instead, the list of Black lives violently ended, of justice miscarried, has only grown longer and more terrible. Against this backdrop, we’ve seen a rise of right-wing thought in both volume and acceptability, from the anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant rhetoric of a new breed of populist politician through the proliferation of the Alt-Right, to the very different president now squatting in the White House.

Black Lives Matter is different in both form and function from the civil rights movements of the past. As Jeff Chang notes in his extraordinary book We Gon’ Be Alright, this was not a movement which formed around one forceful, charismatic male voice. It was started by three women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. It is an insurgent movement; a reaction; a disruption. It has a sense of urgency, of crisis and of place. It represents the latest form in a continuum of struggle that stretches back as far as slavery, a new, horizontal, open source resistance.

It speaks to an American reality, a 21st century reality, to the prison-industrial complex, urban poverty, and the frustration of an underclass who found themselves left in limbo and threatened by systemic violence even under Obama.

I have been struck by how the media perception of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen it framed as a negative force for change, and I would fervently argue that instead it gives a voice to the voiceless in political debate, debate no longer centred on New York, Washington DC and the Houses of Parliament. That it opens up a creative space for Black activists and artists to fashion and articulate a response.

In a year in which the Bush Theatre has been nomadic, in which we’ve spent the last 12 months working in and alongside the lives and communities of West London, it seems appropriate that we return to Black Lives Black Words. Initiated in 2015 by poet, playwright and producer Reginald Edmund, Black Lives Black Words is a conversation held across continents, where we come together to speak to the vital question of what is the value of Black lives in America, the UK and across the world.

Madani Younis, Artistic Director of The Bush theatre

I was 15 years old when Stephen Lawrence was murdered, a Black British teenager killed in a racially motivated attack. The ripples of that watershed moment in media and public perception of Black lives in the UK flowed through my late teens and my early 20’s. The Macpherson Report, the growing awareness of institutional police racism, the killing of Christopher Alder, and of Mark Duggan, and the subsequent 2012 London riots. Since 1990, a tenth of identified deaths in police custody were people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. There is a concussive effect of turning on the news each day and seeing men and women who look like you portrayed so negatively, and violently. There is a concussive effect to daily reminders that in the eyes of some, you do not belong, and your voice is not welcome. So it is no surprise to me that we have seen the emergence of our own Black Lives Matter movement in the UK and across Europe, as a vital shared form of resistance to a conservativism that is wrecking lives and silencing dissent.

As a theatre, we have always existed in Shepherd’s Bush, on one of the country’s most multicultural roads, but also a place of extreme contrast, where some of the city’s greatest deprivation exists a street or two away from its most valuable housing. And these are extremes which so often break down across racial and class lines.

When we first welcomed Reginald and Black Lives Black Words to our theatre, where together with Artistic Directors of the Future they brought these vital voices to the UK, we felt a kinship with their concerns and their strategies. So it seemed only appropriate that now, as we prepare to re-open our building on the Uxbridge Road, that we should mark that with a statement about the kind of work we want to enable, the kind of voices we want to amplify, the kind of world we want to live in. To return to the words of Jeff Chang

The horizon towards which we move always recedes before us. The revolution is never complete. … All that signified progress may in time be turned against us. But redemption is there for us if we are always in the process of finding love and grace.’

– Madani Younis, March 2017


You can find out more about Black Lives, Black Words HERE, and more about Black Lives Matter HERE. With thanks to Reginald Edmund and Madani Younis.

 

Black Plays Series at The National Theatre

Throughout June 2015, The National Theatre are hosting a series of readings and discussions entitled the Black Plays Series. Oberon are delighted to publish all three of the writers featured: Mojisola Adebayo, Tunde Ikoli and Michael Abbensetts. In this informal series, their plays will be read by actors, followed by lively group discussion led by Natasha Bonnelame (previously the Black Plays Archive Project Manager).

Adebayo plays cover.indd

Muhammad Ali and Me is a lyrical coming-of-age story, following the parallel struggles of a gay child growing up in foster care and the black Muslim boxing hero’s fight against racism and the Vietnam war.
Mojisola Adebayo is a British-born, Nigerian/Danish performer, playwright, director, producer, workshop leader and teacher. Her work is concerned with power, identity, personal and social change. Mojisola teaches in the department of Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. She teaches on the BA in American Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College and is studying for her PhD at Queen Mary University of London.
This event will be held on Sat 13th June 

 

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Scrape off the Black is set in London’s East End in 1973. Trevor organises a surprise party on the release of his brother Andy from Borstal. But Rose, his bingo-playing, pill-popping mother, has other plans.
Tunde Ikoli was born in London’s East End to a Cornish mother and Nigerian father. After leaving school at 15, he spent two years as a trainee tailor’s cutter, before writing and co-directingTunde’s Film, shown at the London, Edinburgh, Mannheim and San Francisco film festivals. Since 1977 Ikoli’s plays have been produced at a number of theatres including the Bush Theatre, Riverside Studios, Theatre Royal Stratford East, and the Tricycle Theatre.
This event will be held on Sat 20th June

 

9781840021790

Alterations is a comedy set in a tailor’s shop, inspired by a real visit to a small room off Carnaby Street where two black tailors had set up shop with just two sewing machines and an ironing board. Performed in London, New Jersey and California, it offers a lively version of black entrepreneurship.
Michael Abbensetts was born in Guyana, moved to London in 1963, and began his career writing short stores. Inspired after seeing a performance of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, he turned to playwriting and his first play Sweet Talk premiered at the Royal Court in 1973, receiving the George Devine Award.
This event will be held on Sat 27th June

 

To find out more information about these events, and buy tickets, visit the National Theatre’s website.
To look at these titles in more detail, click the images above to be taken to the Oberon Books website.