My Response To Porgy and Bess On Broadway(2012)

Editor’s note: Before we delve into this piece, would like to take the time to thank Nikki for such an eventful weekend in New York City. Asylum will always be indebted and I’m sure I would have never been exposed to much of what I have been if it had not been for your extended loyalty and commitment to our family.

 

 

An understanding must always be undertaken when discussing figures of history: I’m discussing what has happened and was recorded of a person. Often, in Afkan discussion, we mistake what we have heard of a person from source 1082 and not what we may have actually witnessed for our Selves or known of someone from primary accounting methods. I never met Dubose Heyward, I may have liked him. I never knew Malcolm X, may have disliked him. So, in my efforts to write critiques regarding historical figures, I attempt to be objective for the sake of my ignorance, and subjective with regard to my complete knowledge of Self. That is not saying I have complete knowledge of Self, for my Self is a dynamic, subject to change; I am, however, referring to those elements that have remained core components that I can be sure of in as much as I’m sure the Sun will remain in a fixed enough position for the Earth to round about its axis.

 

A part of this Self, I speak of and know of is my need to bond with those of my Afkan heritage. The romantic element of any nation, tribe, religion, any grouping of humans, is exactly that which that unit’s cohesive agent is. We are all bound by emotional strands, physical ecological realities, or we are not at the same time. Logic allows for a cold, or objectifying treatment of life, yet it doesn’t remove the fact that all of life is living and that all of the living are dependent or interconnected in some way. It is the romantic ideology that compels the will to act in a manner suitable for sacrifice and commitments that cold logic cannot always clone. The cowardly can be logical; the cowardly cannot always be faithful to the trust of those that need them to be in the face of ominous circumstance. When the braves of a people are limited and must resort to the employ of cowards to do that which even the brave flounder, it takes an emotional appeal that extends into the imagination, not the analytic recesses. In this regard, it is always necessary to know what every imagination, what every creation, and thus what every artist and creator, has in their mind and what is the response to these creations on the collective mind. It must be remembered that the phrase “Uncle Tom” originated not in the sphere of objective reality, but in the imaginations of a White woman for a white male audience. Yet, how often do we hear White males using the phrase colloquially? How often do we hear or read Afkan peoples using it?

 

Now, in mentioning all of that, what are you preparing us for, eh? I don’t mind White writers writing whatever they choose; I just don’t wish to allow it to pass without a critical eye for symbols and messages that are born of the taints of White privilege born of European global domination that allows Whites to continuously feel comfortable crafting pieces about Afkan of all eras and periods. Media images have defined movements and cultural behaviors since the written word appeared, and it should be the effort of any Black(Afkan) media analyst to regard all works composed by other than Afkan about Afkan to be held as propaganda that could spark mass gas chambers to be filled. If I am to be applauded for critiquing the works of Tyler Perry or even Aaron McGruder, I shall not be of the type of rat’s bastard spawn, filled with insecurity of my own culture and skin, that I can’t critically assess those that helped to forge the stereotypes and shallow witticisms that plague the works of the aforementioned.

 

 

I tend to hold this view especially when applying my sword and monocle to period pieces. Especially period pieces written by Southern Whites born during the late 1800s (any hundreds really, but those really get the McNulty treatment). Such a piece is Dubose Heyward’s Porgy, which is the book that became the play that became the operetta, that became the wonderful and entertaining Broadway production my sister from another sex act entirely treated me and Brie to the past weekend. The production of the Broadway performance was superb in execution. David Alan Grier’s “Sportin’ Life” was vivid and captured the essence of the trickster beyond even the work it Self through his use of obvious stage contraptions that were not actual props(i.e., his constant leaning on stage scaffolding, a device that lesser skilled talents might abuse to the detriment of a convincing performance). The colorful clothing arrangements complemented the rich vocal assortment, which, like that blending of cast costumes, cascaded in a harmonizing that captured you from the opening act to the last. It truly was an event to behold. An experience worthy of all that vibratory magnetism that surrounds much of Broadway, and those works which come to represent it in real time.

 

Porgy and Bess, the Broadway musical, is the story of a crap game gone bad when a local drunken dope fiend, Crown, loses and kills the fader, Robbins. Without telling too much of the plot, although you should expect spoilers, Porgy, a crippled beggar gives the drunken dope fiend’s lady, Bess, a place to hide after she turns down the offers of the local dope dealer, “Sportin’ Life”. And although the production is awfully compelling, I couldn’t resist the urges of my analytic process when watching a musical rendition of a crap game of Afkan gentle folks acted in front of me in a sea of predominantly White ticket buyers. I immediately thought of Ice Cube’s “What They Hittin’ Foe?”(Amerikkka’s Most Wanted(1991)) and other Hip hop mentionables that have often gone under fire by the same class of Afkan that will most likely be defending the White Heyward and Jewish Gershwin. As an Afkan (Black) media analyst, it is has become an almost impossible task for me not to question the motives of why a particular cultural artifact, whether well meaning or not, actual or just practical for storytelling purposes, was used. This is especially the case for productions with cultural Afkan overtones and predominantly Afkan casts. I have a right to question anyone outside of the Afkan experience, I don’t care if your mother sucked fifty Afkan penises in the back of her father’s car while she grew up in an Afkan neighborhood; all Afkan can’t tell the Afkan story, why should it be so easy for those other than Afkan to do it?

 

 

It often needs to be thought about, who trained Afkan film writers, other Afkan film writers, or other than Afkan film writers? Was it not other than Afkan peoples that had their hands on the development of film first? Did the Afkan somehow fund a movie production to teach other than Afkan people how to write for film and film going audiences before other than Afkan people wrote for film and all other than Afkan audiences? Have I somehow confused you here? Do you need to read this all over? Please, I’ll wait right here…

 

Where did the mammy caricature originate? Although the depiction of women of an imaginary small Gullah village named, Catfish Row — symbolized in the Broadway performance by nine (my numerologists readers should have a field day with this play given its use of complete and incomplete notions {the play starts with a child’s birth} used throughout the scripting) planks of wood holding up the wooden set where the thespians performed– these women are very much styled as the mammy. In fact, all of the Afkan women in the play would easily fit into that type with the exception of Bess, played by a very alluring and just damn fine Audra McDonald, whose type is the whore, the loose and easily accessible licentious dark woman, or Jezebel/Sapphire, a caricature often associated with Afkan women. The male characters, although slightly more robust, still capture elements of the slave narratives as sold to European American audiences. We have the Buck exemplified by the drunken Crown. This savage rapist image that allowed for Ku Klux Klan memberships to swell, oh wait, that could have possibly allowed(yes, I’m moving my right hand closed around an open circular space in a jerking up and down motion), after the release of D.W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’. Although the trickster image appears heavily in Gullah and Yoruba lore, in the character of Sportin’ Life it takes on the elements of “slickster”, not buffoonish in any manner, but the sophisticated fast talking caricature spoken of in J.A. Rodger’s “From Superman to Man”.

 

 

I do not in any right feel the need to be “fair” to a writer’s work who has direct descendants that not only owned slaves but apparently lived pretty well-off because of them, so I’ll write this out rightly, the women are shown as the unifying force of the story, very much like the mammy caricature is shown as the leader of the Afkan people. Whether objective reality supports this or not, and whether I support this or not, this is the continued message throughout the piece. We see a much respected Porgy being chastised by the women who will not give him his cane as a means of keeping him immobile to convince him towards their thinking. It is also the women that alienate Bess and instruct her not to seek Porgy for a rest haven. It is also the women that embrace her and invite her to the community picnic held on the island where she is left to be raped by Crown (a rape scene on the stage was very impacting given the level of groping by the actor Phillip Boykin). I was happy to see a media production where an Afkan man is seeking to not only commit to an Afkan woman, but also to defend her, sure. I’m also pleased to have seen a performance whereby a group of Afkan women that are married to Afkan men come together to defend an Afkan man. I’m also pleased to point out a production that points to the historical reality of the Gullah. I do believe I’ve been kind enough to this child of Afkan slave torturers.

 

It should noted here that Heyward wrote Porgy based on an actual Afkan that was considered to be a criminal. As an informally trained White writer whose family had fallen from grace after the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent fall of the South, Heyward had been persuaded to write a piece about Afkans that would allow him to compete with the more sophisticate White writers in the community of writers that he belonged to. As stated before, I probably would have really liked this guy. But, I have to ask, if Heyward were an Afkan understanding how powerful imagery works in writing as well as how imagery transcends cultures, would he have gone with an Afkan story of a criminal and whore? It is a compelling story. Porgy and Bess is much more intricate than its critics have allowed it, and much more complex than Gershwin’s adaptation, replete with inconsistency after inconsistency, frames it. I do agree with Langston Hughes, Heyward was able to do what most of his White counterparts crafting the Afkan experience elegantly and poignantly. However, I still must wonder if he were forced by conscientious responsibility to pick a storyline, would it have been that of a crippled beggar forced to defend an Afkan drug addict from her murderous and rapist lover? Porgy, and its variation, Porgy and Bess, is an ugly tale. It is a very dark piece. Heyward’s ethnicity and his family’s background only makes the piece more dark for me.

 

Certain questions ought to be raised. Why is it when an Afkan portrays Afkan women as needy, drug addicted, and weaker than enamel dentures soaking in lemon juice, they are attacked for being born Tyler Perry? Yet, those descriptions were written with Porgy and Bess in mind. Has it become a part of our culture that only White Jewish males are allowed to go unquestioned with depictions of Afkan (Afrikan Amerikkkan) women in roles stereotypical or demeaning? Had Tyler Perry been the director of “Color Purple” instead of Steven Spielberg, would we have demanded the lynching party we usually rally together behind films that display women in no different manner than the Jewish film maker? We laugh when White women attempt to exhibit our styles, yet we let a White Jewish man tell us how our “Girlfriends” should act?

 

I don’t mind anyone doing whatever with media. I do have a problem when I can’t ask questions in the same country “Birth of a Nation” and “Colors” were filmed. I know what impact images can have on the lives of individuals and thus communities. Afkan pretend to endure for the sake of artistic value, and yet, the Anti-Defamation League would have their balls deep down Tyler Perry’s esophagus if he crossed the same lines we allow his Jewish counterparts to cross since the early 1900s in media. I am appreciative of classic works such as Porgy and Bess. I thought the imagery of an Afkan community coming together against White terrorism in the form of brutal and draconian police detectives was refreshing. But White Jewish liberals have always had a soft spot when it comes to violence in their exploitation; ask an NAACP member. However, I would ask anyone reading this to consider whatever facts and accurate insights or perspectives I provide with this piece.

 

I also don’t have any extra fucks to give with those that might label me filiopietistic here. As known, I am an Afkan loyalist and my works aren’t of the academic type constructed by intellectual cowards hiding behind objectivity for the sake of grants, loans, tenure, or appearances on some news anchor or political pundit’s couch positioned just so precisely for camera purposes. Excuse my existentialism, but every human is at war, and every collective formed due to warlike circumstances either of environment, animal, or other human collectives. Good writers don’t toss words on pages and make classic literature no matter how much Western theories of evolution might suggest such goofy notions. A lot of thought goes into a masterpiece, and a lot of impact occurs with collected thought. My job is to ask the questions that you don’t when thinkers hope you aren’t.

 

As always, thanks for reading this…