On 25 March 2019, in the framework of the festival Les Dionysies at the Sorbonne University, anti-racist activists prevented a play called Les Suppliantes, directed by Philippe Brunet, from occurring because of the use of a blackface. On stage, white actresses were interpreting the Danaides with black make-up and copper masks on to perform the role Egyptian choir. It would come as a surprise that in 2019, we still have to remind, negotiate with, call for a boycott of, protest against and physically interrupt such a practice. And yet… on 11 April, on the Théâtre du soleil’s initiative was released an open letter defending this play in the name of freedom of creation. Among signatories are a lot of live performance big names.
Lately, media perfectly distinguished themselves as the herald of white bourgeois and reactionaries whiny messages; the latter persisting to turn a deaf ear to and to go against feminist and anti-racist demands while earning money from the systems of privileges in question. We do remember the open letter from the 100 women defending “the right for men to pester on women”. But this time, freedom of creation is abjectly conjured up in the open letter that supports Eschyle.
Nobody is free when someone else is unfree. That is what The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism (1981)[i] delivered by Audre Lorde is about. Freedom to pester, freedom to create, freedom of speech: devil may-care generation, doing what they want, when they want, how they want without anybody contradicting them. Their freedom builds upon those who do not have any but, where does it come from? It is so redundant that it may sound as a practical joke, and yet…
And yet today, the art world and French culture are despising people of colour demands.
Today, we are outraged but most importantly, we are tired.
We lack the energy to remind you that censorship is an instrument used by states, not by some activists who are using their freedom to protest and rebel against anti-black and racist plays.
We are tired to say that the attempt to switch responsibilities that consists in turning activists legitimate action into “a serious aggression” is a well-proven tactic used by authorities of power.
In case we forget, activist Munroe Bergdorf states that « drawing attention to a social divide is not the same thing as creating one. Activists are often considered to be divisive or troublemakers by those who have become accustomed to the privileges that social divides provide them ».
Today, we are growing weary of always proving your hypocrisy : for us, people of colour, theatre is NOT a “place of metamorphosis” when we are constantly prevented from creating by the discriminatory and eliminatory mechanisms in place.
Yes, we are cloistered away in our identities when our bodies become exotic objects on stage. No, we do not have freedom to create when neutrality is taken away from us. Instead, we are continuously and fiercely brought back to our race by the system. Yes, theatre is a “shelter for identities”: in majority, French stages are dominated by white men directors, with white men, for white men to watch it, criticise it and hail it. We can clearly name it communitarism. This community is unaware of its existence but still, it monopolises our stages, our stories and it is locking the gateway of its world for those who do not fit in.
Today, we are exhausted to observe that French theatre belongs to the privileged, where aping the “other” is a hobby. Meanwhile, the “other” is deprived from its legitimate right, or even its duty, to rise up against its identity being mocked on stage. This is the same French theatre that declares itself “intellectual, humanist and Hellenist” and that has the nerve to believe and to have everyone believe that white bourgeois culture is universal. That it reaches the very similarities in every human being. How can you be blind and not see that your stages are devoid of diversity? How come you cannot seriously perceive the resemblance between your plays and the public interested in it? The same public that is represented and that can identify? Which citizens are you serving?
Today, we are fatigued to state the following: any freedom that builds upon the permanent need to silence us, dominate us and erase us is no freedom. Any freedom to create that builds upon the domination of others is a perverted, guilty, insincere and irresponsible freedom that is fooling no one except its accomplices.
Today, your absolute desire not to be challenged and your impunity are unbearable to us.
And finally, today, we will not keep explaining why blackface is and always will be eminently racist: it has already been done and you have chosen to disregard it.
However, we have to do something.
who are preaching a popular theatre,
desperately trying to bring «diversity» in your funded theatres,
slumped in mortified positions due to too much power and talk,
and still believing that you can write our stories with impunity,
you leave us no choice.
the little names,
the wretched of the earth,
the people of colour, standing up with our allies.
Today, on Wednesday 17 April 2019, we refuse to be walked all over. We claim our freedom and independent thinking and creation and hereby declare the death of your racist and colonial world.
Dear signatories of Eschyle open letter, good day to you all. In your world in despair, we would not exist. Therefore, you would have to ape us, put black make-up on and imitate us. Good day to you all! WE DO EXIST in your world and we stand here to say NO.
We won’t keep quiet. It is time YOU keep quiet. It is time for us to talk.
We are not your house niggers. We won’t assimilate.
We won’t hear our story from others again and you won’t lay down your law.
We will take back the history you made for us. It is our turn to write it.
We will resist, write, think, play, direct, paint and, as Léon Gontran-Damas says:
“nous les peu
nous les gueux
nous les riens
nous les chiens
nous les maigres
nous les nègres
pour jouer aux fous
pisser un coup
tout à l’envi
contre la vie
stupide et bête
qui nous est faite ?”[ii]
We won’t wait anymore. We are now standing up and we will then highlight, applaud, celebrate, criticise, deconstruct, reconstruct. Because we are no children to you. We are here for the genuine deconstruction and transformation of this classist, racist, sexist and ableist system. And this is an act of creation.
Considering the contempt of those spitting on us without scruples, we call on for the signatures of our friends of colour and allies to the anti-racist cause.
This open letter is a response to:
[i] “No woman is free while any woman is unfree.”, in her speech The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, delivered in 1981 at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut.
[ii] Léon Gontran-Damas, Black-Label, Ed. Gallimard, 1956.