Rave reviews are all in for Jeremy O. Harris. The young playwright and upstart’s first off-broadway hit, Slave Play, has become the darling of the New York theater world. Slave Play is the Fifty Shades of Grey theater version, but a hundred times worse. It’s as if the playwright went down the deepest and darkest rabbit hole of Pornhub’s race play section and then decided to turn what they saw into a stage play. In other words, this play is one of the most offensive things ever, done purely for shock and awe. Here’s a snippet from Slave Play:
It begins with the surprisingly graphic onstage couplings of three interracial couples on an antebellum Virginia plantation. A white overseer named Jim (Paul Alexander Nolan) hooks up with a broom-wielding slave named Kaneisha (Teyonah Parris, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) — though not before forcing her to eat cantaloupe off the floor. A white mistress (Annie McNamara) orders an educated mixed-race slave, Phillip (Sullivan Jones), to play the violin before penetrating him with a dildo. And a black overseer (Ato Blankson-Wood) brings himself to orgasm when he makes a white indentured servant (James Cusati-Moyer) lick his boots.
Jeremy isn’t the only black person in the entertainment field to make light of the realities of slavery in the name of bad comedy and shock value. Season two of the hit HBO show “Insecure“ had its own show within a show called, Due North. For a while, you think it’s going to be a take on a secret slave rebellion or the Underground Railroad. Nope, it ends up being a lot like a pg-13 version of Slave Play, a fetishization and romanticization of interracial rape during slavery.
Luckily, both were fans of Insecure and they connected to the Due North satire, which sends up both the tropes of prime-time dramas and the ways people talk about the antebellum South. “It’s a comical take on it, but it is a look at the power structures that were set up during slavery…That show would probably never happen on real network TV, but because we have this playground on the show within the show, we felt like we could play it off.”
I guess it’s not ‘racist’ if there are black writers and directors creating these satirical slave narratives. No, what these creations represent is simple: self-hatred. I’m reminded of the chorus to the song by Immortal Technique, “Caught in the Hustle” that sums up the reason why self-hatred is still so relevant to people of color.
I used to wonder about people who don’t believe in themselves
But then I saw the way they portrayed us to everyone else
They cursed us to only see the worst in ourselves
Blind to the fact the whole time we were hurtin’ ourselves
Disrespecting the Ancestors
I’ve tried to imagine another group of people who have gone through so much historical trauma and then those people turning that traumatic experience into a ratchet, thoughtless play or movie. From what I’ve seen, there is no Jewish, Native American, or Australian Aboriginal version of Slave Play. I don’t personally know the third-year Yale School of Drama writer of this play, Jeremy O. Harris, but this a slap in the face to those who survived and died during the Middle Passage and during the hundreds of years that followed. Mr. Harris stated that James Baldwin was his kindred spirit, but I doubt he’d be a fan of his latest work. I visualize African bodies that floated to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and the countless slaves who died of disease before ever stepping foot in the New World. Then there are my own direct ancestors.
The survivors of the slave trade and American slavery which created one of the world’s most rigid and destructive racial caste systems. As a black person in America, I’m deeply disappointed and troubled by the fact that a fellow black person would trivialize the African holocaust for laughs and shock value. Predictably, the play’s director along with the playwright have tried to intellectualize this dumpster fire of a production. I’m sure both liberal and conservative white people and bougie “slavery was a long time ago” Nergoes will lap up this play eagerly.
“Usually we see slave narratives about how horrible it was and how oppressive white people were, but not the collective trauma that we all inherit,”…‘Slave Play’ challenges the audience from the very beginning”- Robert O’ Hara
Sorry, Mr. O’Hara, that sounds like another version of “All Lives Matter.” “Slave masters were hurt, too! What about their lives?” That’s what O’Hara’s ridiculous comment sounds like. I think about those who sacrificed so much to be free and live free, like Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Sally Hemings, and Toussaint L’Ouverture. This is a slap in the face to their legacy.
An out of touch creepy director and screenwriter like Quentin Tarintino can do a “spaghetti western” slave movie like D’ Jango Unchained. A “funny” slave movie that not only ends up becoming yet another white savior movie but also somehow makes the main villain a sunken place slave. WTF? Yeah. That garbage can be expected from an out of touch white person but for a black person making shit up like Slave Play is outright infuriating. Sidebar: I’m really excited to see how Quentin screws up Star Trek.
There are slave movies and plays done well that don’t minimize the racism, torture, brutality, and rape of black people that came from the racial power dynamics created during American Slavery. Those dynamics still haunt us to this day. The film Twelve Years a Slave was excellent, riveting, and heartbreaking all at the same time. The creators of the trash Slave Play perhaps feel like they’re beyond race because they’re putting a post-modern spin on the slave narrative. But, to paraphrase Bell Hooks’ words, it looks like post-modernism all dressed up with nowhere to go and nothing substantial to say.
I love seeing a black person make it big in their respective field, but not by pimping out the struggle. Or worse pedaling the most horrible racial stereotypical tropes and sexual fetishes for nothing more but pure shock and giggles. Ultimately, the Boondock’s “The Story of Catcher Freeman” episode did the revisionist slave narrative a million times better than Slave Play. It was shocking, funny, and thought-provoking all at the same time. It paid homage to the struggles of our ancestors, even the closing “negro spiritual” did some justice to that history. Sorry, I can’t say the same thing Mr. Harris’s for Slave Play.