Why the 60th Anniversary of Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun' Resonates for Me in a Personal Way
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun." A major American classic by any standard, it is also the first Broadway-produced play by an African-American woman. It's a milestone that remains as relevant on March 11, 2019 as it was in 1959.
Several years ago, a Seattle newspaper asked me to review a staging at Seattle Rep, one of the finest regional theaters in the country. A lifelong theater buff, I was thrilled when the editor promised free tickets and a stipend in exchange for my opinion.
Whenever anyone remounts a beloved classic of film or stage, you hope they won't ruin it. So it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I made my way to Seattle Center for the opening. But I needn't have worried. As you might expect from a Tony-winning outfit like Seattle Rep, the production was excellent. Although I hadn't seen the play for quite a while, its impact remained undeniable. The play resonates for anyone with a human heart, but it's especially meaningful to African Americans because it takes a hard look at a family divided by conflicting dreams and the internal and external pressures that challenge and shape the black experience to this very day.
But Hansberry's play also has a special place in my personal memory because my brother, Kurt Hill, performed the role of Walter Lee Younger (the Sidney Poitier character) when my alma mater, Drexel Catholic High School, produced the play during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, about a year before the Voting Rights Act became law.
With Albert Finney’s departure from the world stage on February 7, there’s plenty to say about his exceptional career. Two favorite scenes from The Dresser (1983) are included here. The film is about a small ragtag acting troupe that brings Shakespeare to the provinces. It’s a sendup of bombastic old-school acting and a poignant study of the lead actor’s personal assistant or “dresser.” The film opens with Finney's character in the role of Othello. As you can see from the above photograph, his entire body has been darkened. Tom Courtenay, his dresser, is shown assisting him with a post-performance bath.
Taken on its own and out of context, the image is both compelling and off-putting. It seems especially relevant to the current social moment when blackface is trending yet again. What does it mean when a white actor darkens his skin to play Othello? Is that the same as the kind of blackface historically used to denigrate African Americans? Or something different?
Why 'The Green Book' with Its Echoes of Greek Myth, Huckleberry Finn & Cyrano de Bergerac Is a Must See Movie of 2018
One critic calls it Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. But for my money The Green Book goes a lot deeper as it takes a long, hard look at what ails us—and hints at what’s required to heal our national divide. Even though it’s set during the early 1960s before passage of the Civil Rights Act, the movie’s themes could not be more relevant to today.
If you’ve never heard of the actual Green Book, which gives the film its name, you’ll learn during this two-hour excursion that even high-profile African-Americans were not allowed to eat or sleep in “whites only” establishments when they performed in the American Deep South. The film won’t tell you this, but it was a Harlem post-office employee, Victor Green, who published the book. Between 1936 and 1966, the Green Book was the essential guide for black travelers, providing a city-by-city list of restaurants, hotels, and gas stations where you would not be humiliated or harmed.
Four Must-Read Reveals on the Shocking Rise of Voter Suppression - And a Six-Point Checklist for Dealing with It
When Jimmy Carter called on Georgia’s GOP Gubernatorial candidate (Brian Kemp) to resign his position as Secretary of State in light of numerous voter-suppression complaints, you didn’t really think that would happen, did you? (Read the full text of Carter's letter.)
But at least President Carter focused much-needed attention on Georgia’s voter-suppression issue. When I saw him trending on Twitter one week before the election, I also noticed that the Megyn Kelly blackface story had waned considerably (down to just 30 tweets per hour).
I’m glad Carter managed to push Kelly to the back pages where she belongs. As Toni Morrison has pointed out, racism is a distraction. Voter suppression, on the other hand, though racially driven, is a form of oppression. It’s a blatant attempt to keep minorities from casting ballots. What follows is fact-based information on the shocking extent of the issue and how to deal with it if you encounter it on Election Day.
1) Voter Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, ninety-nine bills designed to diminish voter access were introduced last year in thirty-one state legislatures. Many of the recent Republican-led efforts stem from the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder. In an opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that discrimination still exists, but not sufficiently to warrant the “extraordinary” remediation measures that the act imposed on the states of the former Confederacy. (More via The New Yorker)
A hilarious satire about what really went down when a famous coffee house closed its doors for racial-bias training--and one man's campaign to set things right once and for all. (Written under my nom de plume to protect the unprotected.)
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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