This Juneteenth sees the premiere of UNMASKED: A Theatrical Celebration of Black Women's Liberation, a series of one-act plays directed by and featuring Black women. Filmed at the Wallis' Lovelace Studio Theater in Los Angeles, the production will premiere June 19 and will be available on-demand and streaming through July 4.
UNMASKED is a co-production of founder Kimberly Hébert's Black Rebirth Collective and Camille Jenkins, the programming manager for the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The production is described as "an exceptional example of an equitable, mutually respectful partnership between two arts organizations, each of which is going well beyond hashtags to create a successful collaboration around Juneteenth."
The one-act plays are created by Black women writers Dominique Morisseau (Ain't Too Proud--The Life and Times of the Temptations), Jocelyn Bioh (School Girls: Or, The African Mean Girls Play), Ngozi Anyanwu (Good Grief) and Stacy Osei-Kuffour (Watchmen). Actors starring in the plays include The Handmaid's Tale's Kelly M. Jenrette, NCIS' Jonah Wharton, Chicago Fire's Candace Thomas, Sip & Tell: The Highlights from Shakespeare's Makha Mthembu, and violinist Katherine Washington.
Each of the four plays, Jezelle the Gzelle, White-N-Luscious, G.O.A.T. and Madness, prominently features different facets of Black female life. According to the official description:
Filmed in The Wallis’ Lovelace Studio Theater, the plays include Jezelle the Gazelle by Dominique Morisseau, a clear-eyed coming of age story about a young girl who is ready to prove that she’s the best runner on her block: young, fierce, and definitely faster than any boy. But is she fast enough to outrun what life has in store and claim her greatness? In White-N-Luscious by Jocelyn Bioh, a Nigerian pop star and an Afro-British scholar are confronted with the controversy of self-representation and unattainable beauty standards all while on a sensationalist talk show. G.O.A.T. by Ngozi Anyanwu spotlights friends Jay, Bonita, and Row, who have gathered to perform a sacred ritual to summon victory for the true Greatest Of All Time. In Madness by Stacy Osei-Kuffour, the protagonist, making a routine call to clean up a work issue, encounters a mysterious new colleague who offers her a unique brand of help.
The creators behind the series wrote in in a statement that UNMASKED "puts Black women's voices in the foreground.
"To have this piece stream during this time in American history points up the paradoxical nature of our country," they said. "The timing seems to be asking us to hold two challenging truths about our shared history, as well as examine how freedoms have been experienced and withheld in this American experiment."
You can learn more from The Black Rebirth Collective's website.