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Monday, March 14, 2016

With Broadway's ECLIPSED, Danai Gurira Puts Women of Color at the Center of Their Own Narratives

With all the contemplation about how to make Hollywood more diverse, how to make the Oscars more inclusive, why Gina Torres isn't a bigger star, and when it will finally be announced that Idris Elba is in fact going to be the next James Bond, I want to bring your attention to Broadway--a medium that despite its own industry imperfections remains the only platform that can boast a production that is exclusively written, directed, and starring women of color.

But please, continue to fight among yourselves over Hollywood bulls**t . 

Meanwhile, with ECLIPSED, Danai Gurira (most known to the mainstream crowd as "Michonne" on The Walking Dead), puts women at the center of their own stories, fully realized characters that run the gamut of emotions and personality traits. In essence, she wrote a truly human story. 

This is particularly fascinating to see coming off the heels of Beasts of No Nation, which I know many of you love though like too many other African narratives marketed to a U.S. audience, it neglects the soul of its individual characters in favor of (re)telling a singular societal story. ECLIPSED goes beneath the atrocities of its setting, the Liberian Civil War, to reveal the stories of four women who--on the surface--seem to only be connected by the fact that they're all wives of a rebel officer. With that serving as the basis of their relationship, you'd think that the tone of the story would be relentlessly solemn. Instead, Gurira uncovers their many layers through humor that's brilliantly nuanced with dramatic inflections indicative of the circumstances with which they grapple: death, rape, and the virtual decimation of their identities (for much of the play, they refer to each other as Wife #1, Wife #2, etc.). Through their own process of self-healing, and leaning on each other for support, we come to understand their quirks, frustrations, desires, regrets, and dreams. As an audience, we form our internal opinions about each character, which inevitably have little to do with the war or their captors and everything to do with what they each bring to the story.

While Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) is the face on the playbill, and the play's catalyst, don't be mistaken: ECLIPSED is filled with riveting ensemble performances that introduce seasoned actresses Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh, and Zainab Jah to new audiences. It's not a musical, but somehow the show feels like a soulful ballad to unidentified and unseen women living on the margins. It breathes life into each character and resonates with a story that far goes beyond the scant compound that makes up the theatrical set. Now that's something worth talking about.

ECLIPSED is now playing on Broadway. 


Brittani Burnham said...

I wish I could see this. I love that Danai is getting so much praise for her plays.

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