Students and faculty shock audience members by acting out very realistic and hostile disputes over Black History Month-related topics.
AYINDE J. STEVENS
Hot Topics hosted a dramatization by the cast of “Black History, Black Voices 3” on Feb. 27 in Lenfell Hall, with an estimated 220 FDU students, faculty and parents in attendance.
“Black History, Black Voices” needed a new space to perform after the Barn was closed to general performances. The Hot Topics event featured skit-like performances, which Dean Geoffrey Weinman called “guerrilla theater.”
The Hot Topics series, which holds multiple discussions throughout the year on numerous current events, is not shy to controversy. This event was a unique approach to the discussion; it was titled “Race in the Media: How Far Have We Come?”
Professor Stacie Lents of the theater department, who directed the performance and the previous “Black History, Black Voices” events, said she wanted to “do something different.”
The panel was unusual because, this time, it consisted of all students. Professors Lents and Katie Singer, director of the minor in African-American Studies, along with Dean Weinman, would ask questions to the panel and then to the students, in the hopes that the comments would help lead to a “skit” later on.
Lents, Singer and the panel, with the help of a few rowdy audience members, created a shocking and thought-provoking performance.
At first, one of the panelists, Shaquille Hobson, came late, only to then stun the audience with a statement declaring that he did not care about Black History Month, but rather he just wanted to act. This infuriated the rest of the panel.
The discussion continued with a clip of the Academy Award-winning film, “The Help,” a Morgan Freeman interview on “60 Minutes,” and the lyrics from the Kanye West song, “Never Let Me Down.”
These selections caused more flare-ups with the panelists and the audience members. While one panelist, senior Bobby Devarona, liked the film, the others debated its presence in American cinema; Devarona defended it, saying that “people should focus on the story line.”
The Freeman interview pushed more buttons. Freeman didn’t like that black history is only told in a month, and stated that “black history is American history.” This caused more problems with the panel, which split over Freeman’s comments. Soon, some of the panel members began to attack each other verbally.
But what really turned up the heat was the Kanye song. Hobson claimed that Kanye should be allowed to say the n-word as much as he wants. Kier “KJ” Thompson, a junior in the audience, vehemently disagreed, saying that a negative word like the n-word cannot be turned into a positive one. Thompson’s comments were among many that disrupted the discussion.
By then the audience was split into two camps: one thinking the event was staged and the other thinking it was real.
Either way, the confusion in the audience became evident; one young woman nearly left.
Another audience member, sophomore Alicia Rivas, jumped into the fray, insulted that Hobson took Black History Month for granted. She responded by calling Hobson, of all things, the n-word.
At this point, Lents accidentally got caught in a fight between Thompson and Devarona, and Weinman appeared to call Public Safety, only to return with a big red t-shirt that read, “I’m an Actor.” So did the panel and the audience members.
With the revelation that this was all staged, the real audience members burst into applause. Once they settled and the young woman who had attempted to leave was back in her seat, the real discussion began.
First, members of the panel discussed how they really felt about racism; their answers came from discussing the issue of race during the performance workshops, the video and music clips.
Caitlyn Roper, a sophomore, said that the experience “really put the issue of racism in my face for the first time.”
For Elizabeth Carlin, another sophomore, the performance was one of the “most uncomfortable things I had to deal with.” The panelists had even created false rumors to tell among their friends in the theater department to throw them off.
Steven McQueen, father of freshman panelist Taylor McQueen, said, “Black History Month is a celebration of our culture” – something that Vanessa Lewis, a freshman, agreed with.
“This month is for us,” she said. “Us as a people need to come together” because people are becoming more “anti-social.”
As for some of the faculty members who were there, Dean of Students Brian Mauro admitted he “suspected something was up,” when he saw the panel and when they were acting in ways “outside of their personality,” and commended them for providing stimulating conversation.
Weinman said “this was the biggest event since I have been doing it [Hot Topics]; it was risky but people are engaging in the topic by talking about it the next day.”
This sentiment was echoed by Singer. She said that the event’s “job” was to provoke discussion, adding that “any conversation on race is a success.”
Photo by Joe Castillo