Jeremy O. Harris’ latest off-Broadway production, Slave Play, has been stirring all types of discussion as well as some controversy. Now, an audience member has created a Change.org petition to get the play shut down.
The play stars Teyonah Parris, Ato Blankson-Wood, James Cusati-Moyer, Paul Alexander Nolan, Annie McNamara and Sullivan Jones, as three sets of couples who engage in the fictional “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” or “slave play” to get the spark back in their relationships. Chalia La Tour and Irene Sofia Lucio star as the psychiatrists who are heading the study.
As Shadow and Act reported, the play attempts to investigate racial and cultural mores and how they play into lust and desire. Parris plays Kaneisha a woman who takes on the role of a slave who has an “affair” with Jim (Nolan), her partner who is roleplaying as a white overseer. Alana pretends to be the mistress of the house and her biracial partner Phillip (Jones), pretends to be Alana’s well-dressed house slave. Gary (Blankson-Wood) roleplays as a slave who acts as the boss to white indentured servant Dustin (Cusati-Moyer).
Ashley B. created the petition, “Shutdown Slave Play,” based on her view that the play does more harm than good. She felt the play made light of the sexual crimes that took place during American slavery.
“This past Saturday I attended Slave Play for the 8pm [sic] showing. I wanted to verbalize that this was one of the most disrespectful displays of anti-Black sentiment as art that I have ever seen,” wrote Ashley. “As a Black woman I was terribly offended and traumatized by the graphic imagery mixed with laughter from a predominately white audience.”
“I feel that the play’s writer and director, even as queer Black men, were viscous in their depictions of slavery, Black sexuality, and specifically targets Black women. Slavery and its pervasive consequences that still affect the descendants of US chattel slavery are not funny and I am extremely disappointed that all involved thought this was an appropriate tool to challenge that status quo on race relations.” Ashley also called the play’s final scene “degrading to my psyche.”
“Art in any form, cannot and should not be separated from its historical context,” she continued. “Hearing the crack of the whip in conjunction with imagery and white audience members laughing sends chills up my spine as I write this.”
The petition has neared its 5,000-signature goal.
The critical response to the play, on the other hand, has been mostly positive. As we covered recently, several critics have found the play to be a scathing indictment of White supremacy as it relates to lust and desire.
The Undefeated’s Soraya Nadia McDonald said the play “dares to show white people to themselves that they are moving through the world with an assumed neutrality that doesn’t actually exist.”
Harris also talked about Slave Play to The New York Times in November, saying that he wanted to play to illuminate how the sexual and racial history of America is still present today.
“I don’t want people to be able to walk away from a play about slavery and say, ‘Oh, well, that’s not about 2018,” he said. “…Everyone who’s watching Slave Play is fully a part of a system that is consuming and profiting off of [B]lack bodies and [B]lack identity…The play does not allow you to escape that fact.”
He also wrote about his path towards decolonizing his own racial lust in a 2016 Vice article in which he writes about analyzing his own attraction to white men.
“I began ruminating obsessively over why I felt this need to convince my white lovers I was something more than just ‘Black’–to have them see me in a way I couldn’t even see myself,” he wrote. “How could I ask that strangers find my Black body beautiful when I saw Black bodies as alien, foreign to my desires?…So I began to decolonize my desires the only way I knew how–through writing,” he wrote. “That obsession, like an itch, spread through me in a way that had moved my forefathers; I began to slowly process what it meant to be a Black male body in a white gay’s world.”
Shadow and Act reached out to Ashley and Harris for comment for this article and we will update the story should they choose to comment.