White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word

What is wrong with white critics? I really want to know. Have you all lost your mind?? When critic Katy Walsh took a loss and set a dignified example for why the n-word is hurtful, apologized, and extricated herself from criticism to learn, were you listening?

In the space of a singular calendar year, we have had two white Chicago critics use the n-word in a review. Yesterday Justin Hayford put this sentence in a review of Court Theatre’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and legitimately thought it was a good idea: “At worst, it will leave him with a cracked skull, tormented children, and a wife who’ll come to believe he’s nothing but a n*gger.” (This is censored, the uncensored photo is below.) Now, I don’t know if Hayford wanted to get into a fight when he published this review, but I am a non-violent person and when I first read this sentence I was ready to throw hands. I immediately talked to some artists working on the play to get their thoughts.

TRIGGER WARNING: The original text of Hayford’s review is below. 

Sydney Charles, prominent actress and founding member of the Chicago Theatre Accountability Coalition who plays Matilda “Tillie” Binks in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner says: “I don’t even read reviews. I woke up to screenshots and seeing that language made me feel like it was last summer [with the Pass Over reviews] all over again. And this time, it was a show that I am actually in…a part of…Black people wake up every day wondering if they will see tomorrow and it’s 2018…so why do I feel like this is 1867? Theater is my safe space…and now I’m questioning the truth in that.”

Associate Director Wardell Julius Clark says: “As the associate director on the piece, I find it profoundly hurtful and incredibly upsetting that a white reviewer would choose to use the n-word in any review at all. To add salt to the already gashing wound of pain, the article was edited with quotes around a phrase that is not a line in the play. For the author to call the play unnecessary and then use a racial epithet that harms so many, is above all irony. It feels as if I have been slapped directly in the face, and I am sick to my gut about it.”

Clark’s comments are particularly disturbing because as he deftly points out, this is about a general lack of respect for the subject matter that I would hope a critic who is in support of and in collaboration with their community would exercise.  If you want to quote something with such incendiary language, use quotes the first time, but furthermore ask their public relations representative for the script!

The actual line is: “And she’s the one gonna wake up mad one morning and call you a n*gger.” The Reader has tried to correct this by stating: “Editor’s note: During the play, one of the characters uses a racial slur. We have updated the text to show that the offensive language came directly from the script. We apologize for the confusion.” As you can see, not only is it misquoted, it is a failed paraphrase if it is meant to be so because these are entirely different sentiments: someone who will come to believe he is nothing but a n-word versus someone calling him the n-word in a moment of anger.

Still not sure if it’s a big deal? Let me walk you through the psychological experience of a Black artist reading the n-word in phases:

  1. My eyes scan the page, and go into double vision. Could this possibly be happening?
  2. Look up the writer. Maybe the Reader hired a black author and I had no idea. Nope, he’s white. Of  course. On to phase 3.
  3. My chest tightens, my eyes widen, my fists clench and my heart starts to beat real fast as every time that word has ever been thrown into my vicinity without my consent by a colonizer flashes through my mind.
  4. I legitimately google whether this is a thing we’re doing now, if profanity is usually published unedited. Mind you – I own the very journal I am using to discuss this issue, and yet I still looked it up because this is what gaslighting looks like in 2018. According to the Washington Post, they use “common sense” and the Atlantic has a really handy guide for when to use racial slurs (pretty much never), but the overall answer from the internet is a resounding NOPE. We are not casually using the n-word in publication.
  5. I realize this writer has  just said the n-word because he felt like it, that the line was nowhere in the play. This is an original thought that this young man is nothing but an n-word. So you repeat step 3, potentially with tears, and you begin to write your response.

These are the five stages of rage that I went through while reading this article today. I am being more direct than I usually would be in writing this piece and I understand this article is angry. However, I have spent too much time reasoning for something that should be common sense. As the Atlantic guide says, don’t use a slur that isn’t yours if you’re not re-appropriating or deconstructing it. 

Black artists and their allies have organized through ChiTAC, we have appealed to your better nature, and none of it has worked. So, white critics of Chicago, I ask you. What will it take for you to respect your artists of color? Because continuing down this path guarantees you will lose respect, readership, and ultimately your jobs. I am a journalist. I want you to thrive, I want you to survive. But I cannot allow you to survive by standing on my back.

Photo by Michael Brosilow

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is running at the Court Theatre through April 15th. Learn more about the show by clicking here.

‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Makes Sense of Crisis

Note: The pronouns of the characters were used for this review, they do not necessarily reflect the pronouns of the artists.

We’re Gonna Be Okay at American Theater Company by Basil Kreimendahl directed by Will Davis perfectly captures what it feels like to be living in the midst of a crisis. In our current political climate, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, there is an undeniable sense of panic as we try to hold on to a life that feels like it’s trying to run away from us. America, a land of unlimited possibility, and paralyzing fear. In Will Davis’ production, that fear is palpable, but it is also accompanied by laughter, love, and hope. Continue reading “‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Makes Sense of Crisis”

‘Montauciel Takes Flight’ Makes Science Soar at Lifeline Theatre

Montauciel Takes Flight at Lifeline celebrates science and the spirit of invention. You know a children’s show is successful if the kids are singing the songs on the car ride home. The charming original musical Montauciel Takes Flight, by James E. Grote (book) and Russell J. Coutinho (music and lyrics), directed by Aileen McGroddy, is based on the true story of the first living creatures to ride in a hot air balloon. The play tells the story of the Montgolfier brothers, paper manufacturers in 1783 France who launched a balloon containing a duck, a rooster and a sheep named Montauciel, a name that means “climb-to-the-sky.” The balloon and its animal occupants landed safely after traveling over two miles, ushering in a new era of manned flight. Continue reading “‘Montauciel Takes Flight’ Makes Science Soar at Lifeline Theatre”

Aziza Barnes’ ‘BLKS’ Gets Up Close and Personal

This review is written by Logan McCullom, an alumni of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program.

Stumbling through the seemingly unending crowds and stairs that make up Steppenwolf’s theatre, I was frazzled and bewildered by how many folks I saw waiting to be seated for the opening night of BLKS. At first glance I found the title to be easy and not very enticing at all, but it was quickly redeemed as I saw the set. Like the title would prove to be, it was comprised of… well… everything. There was no shortage of couches, there were even couches on the walls! Set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer draped long blue curtains on the stage, making distinct isolations that served as different rooms within the same stage. It was messy, chaotic, a perfect representation of life on your own, and I loved it. Continue reading “Aziza Barnes’ ‘BLKS’ Gets Up Close and Personal”

Fists Up: An Interview with Fight Choreographer & Actor Almanya Narula

This week Editor-In-Chief Regina Victor sat down with notable fight choreographer, dancer, and actor Almanya Narula to discuss the art of stage combat, her history as a performance artist in Bollywood and the United States, and what the field needs now. Victor and Narula first met on the set of Ricardo Gamboa’s Brujos. Victor was impressed by Narula’s ability to design impressive combat that was easily taught in a short time frame, as well as the vast career Narula has cultivated in a male-dominated industry.  Continue reading “Fists Up: An Interview with Fight Choreographer & Actor Almanya Narula”

‘Book of Will’ Fails to Diversify The Bard

By Lavina Jadhwani

“Casting should be diverse. Shakespeare is meant for everyone.”

This simple statement, written atop the casting breakdown of Lauren Gunderson’s new play, THE BOOK OF WILL at Northlight Theatre, filled me with so much hope.

I am a woman of color who regularly directs Shakespeare and regularly encounters pushback when trying to convince producers and audiences that the words people often assume were written primarily for white, cis, able-bodied men can be shared by, well, everyone. That’s why I was so moved by Gunderson’s sentiment and so excited by the casting announcements made by the Denver Center and Oregon Shakespeare Festival regarding this play. (The world premiere in Denver included two South Asian actors — my desi heart soared!!) My heart sank, however, when I saw the casting announcement of a local company, Northlight Theatre, which included an all white cast and production team. Nevertheless, I attended the production in hopes of learning something new about this play and the world of William Shakespeare. I wanted to keep an open mind. And honestly — I wanted to support my friends. Continue reading “‘Book of Will’ Fails to Diversify The Bard”

About Face Youth Ensemble’s ‘Brave Like Them’: Explosive, Feminist, and Unapologetically Queer

By Regina Victor

About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s Brave Like Them is an exciting and dynamic exploration of cultural movements and gender expression infused with feminist punk. The show is entirely devised and performed by the members of the About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble and co-directed by About Face’s Education and Outreach Director Ali Hoefnagel and Education Coordinator Kieran Kredell. The script was well-written, and memorable, especially impressive because the age range for the ensemble that devised it is 13-23 years old. The play takes place in the Riot Grrl movement of the 1990s, an underground punk feminist movement that originated Washington state, credited with being the beginning of third wave feminism. Famous bands that came out of that era include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney. Brave Like Them takes us to Washington state in that era, and investigates both the successes of the movement but also the racial and class discrepancies – most of the voices of this movement were middle class, white cisgender women. Continue reading “About Face Youth Ensemble’s ‘Brave Like Them’: Explosive, Feminist, and Unapologetically Queer”

Love and Talent Burn Fiercely in ‘Bright Half Life’

(Photo Copyright: Michael Brosilow)

By Regina Victor

Bright Half Life at About Face Theatre directed by Kiera Fromm is an elegant exploration of queer love and the quirks of relationships. A two-person play penned by Tanya Barfield, Bright Half Life centers around the intertwined lives of two women, Erica (Elizabeth Ledo) and Vicky (Patrese D. McClain). The play jumps back and forth through time to tell us the story of Vicky and Erica’s decades long love affair, from their first encounter at the job where Vicky is the only black female supervisor, to the marriages of their children. Fromm’s direction and Barfield’s sequence of events made it clear from the beginning that this love would be complicated and messy, that it would end and perhaps begin again. But whether or not they see a happy ending almost doesn’t matter. Bright Half Life  believes that it’s not about the result, it’s about the journey. Continue reading “Love and Talent Burn Fiercely in ‘Bright Half Life’”