How These Black Playwrights Are Challenging American Theater

How These Black Playwrights Are Challenging American Theater

There’s been a lot of discussion about the whiteness of critics, at this newspaper and elsewhere. How do you think race affects a critic’s ability to assess your work?

COOPER I do think there is a certain understanding that comes in some work — that you have to have lived in that experience to understand that work. If you sent all black critics to go review the first production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” they would say, “It was great; We had a good time,” but they’re not going to be able to go as in-depth and get all the traditions and all the winks.

HARRIS There is so much frustration from black artists about the way in which our work is being seen, because it’s not equitable. Out of all the shows on Broadway right now that are being talked about, there’s only one black critic who has ever written about most of them. The fact that there’s only been one major black critic of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, and that it’s also a negative review, is something that I think should key people into the fact that perhaps a relationship to whiteness affects a white critic’s relationship to not only black work but to white work as well.

NWANDU I would just like to have more voices. Let’s talk specifically about The Times. I don’t understand why every art form is not reviewed in the way books are reviewed, where you have a lot of different voices — different races, different ages, different backgrounds, a lot of people who have written books — reviewing books. The model where there are two or three dominant voices seeing everything and reviewing everything for a publication doesn’t reflect the world.

DRURY You see the work from a particular vantage point. And you imagine yourself as the audience, which in some ways is true and in some ways is limited. It just is a shame that there aren’t more vantage points that are commonly available for people to see themselves in the audience through reviews.

How do you think about how to portray whiteness in your work?

HARRIS I feel like black people are the best equipped to write about white people because we’ve had an entire life of white studies.

NWANDU I definitely identify with, and agree with, the notion that black people know about whiteness better than white people, and that, as someone who has had to both survive it and elicit help from it and is oftentimes surrounded by it, I think I have an understanding of the characteristics of whiteness. Then it’s just a matter of filtering those observations through my own aesthetic and through my own voice.

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