Friday, March 22, 2013

Theatre of Cruelty and Audience in Black Arts

In his essay, “The Black Arts Movement”, Larry Neal describes the Black Arts Movement as an ethical one, whose motive is to destroy white ideology and aesthetics. The Black Arts “envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America. In order to perform this task, the Black Arts Movement proposes a radical reordering of the western cultural aesthetic” (29). He credits Amiri Baraka for starting the movement. Baraka, himself, personifies this movement within his plays, particularly in “The Slave Ship”.  
In Thursday’s class, Elizabeth mentioned the term “Theatre of Cruelty”, in which the purpose of the act is to cause discomfort and a self-reflection on the audience’s perceptions and ideas. One person whom I can think of currently today who does this well is Dave Chappelle. I recently watched his comedy sketch, “Killin’ Them Softly”. In it he describes how police officers beat up black men without any just cause and for spite, and when a report is filed, the police officers “sprinkle a little crack on them” as a way to justify their beating of the man. I laughed at this sketch, but it was one of discomfort and nervousness because Dave exposed a truth in our society about police violence that still continues but many don’t want to believe as still occurring in the 2000’s.  
The concept of the Theatre of Cruelty made me think about whom the audience is in the Black Arts Movement. Maybe this is a silly thought, but I honestly couldn’t determine in Larry Neal’s essay whom the Black Arts Movement aims to move and instill action within. I definitely can say African Americans, but I can’t determine whether or not to exclude white Americans out of the picture. The Blacks Arts Movement is creating a space, that has never been given, to the black community to fill with their own plays, poems, street performances, etc… so as to redefine aestheticism and rid it’s hidden precursor of “white” and add “black”, a move that Baraka believed hadn’t been done even in the “Harlem Renaissance”.
Yet, in order to do this, I think that a Theatre of Cruelty needs to be performed on white audiences, to force a radical rethinking of their own beliefs but also on what constitutes Beauty and Art. But then, I also think that the Black Arts Movement shouldn’t have to do this and possibly that white audience members will never appreciate nor fully understand Black Art.
Whether Baraka meant it or not, I experienced a Theatre of Cruelty after reading his work, “The Slave Ship”. One of the characters is a reverend, Reverend Tom.  In this character, I really started to witness the ways in which Baraka called into question white ideology especially in its relationship and manipulation with black people. Baraka really shows his criticism with this description, “He tries to be, in fact, assumes he is, dignified, trying to hold his shoulders straight, but only succeeds in giving his body an odd slant like a diseased coal chute” (142). The preacher is shown to the audience as a weak leader to his fellow black men and women, and who ultimately looks for the graces of the white voices because he’s accepted their “white Jesus”.
After reading this play, I felt uncomfortable by Baraka’s indirect criticism of Christianity through the figure of the preacher. My community is Catholic and so are my parents (although I am not), and I think we sometimes tend to think that Jesus is one of us, meaning white, not black, not Middle Eastern, and not Jewish. Because Jesus is white, there is no attempt to engage and reach out to black people, and yet I know that some of the people who call themselves Catholic often espouse racism. There is no questioning of how open and accepting the Catholic Church is nor for the matter of its own racial history. It’s a void that should not exist, and it’s one that came into my head as I read Baraka’s work.  

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