Last updated: August 6, 2019
Topic: ArtTheatre
Sample donated:

“For Africa to me … is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.” (Maya Angelou) this quote shows how I feel it’s important to know the history of the past and to see how it has shaped the present day today. Which is something that I focus on in my paper by looking back at a time of social injustice that divided a nation and looking back at that time and determining if the past has progressed in modern day society or if the past has just continued to repeat itself.  By the 1960’s the voices of African Americans were beginning to be heard in the united states. I’d argue that the Civil rights movement was a moment in history in which African American artist were speaking out on the racial injustice that they were experiencing in their notable works. This topic is interests me because black theatre is a big part of American theatre. I wanted to know how the social events of the civil rights movement influenced the black artist during those time. Looking at this time period I hope to find out just how much of the events during that time were used in the plays.  I think that for me as a black artist and taking the time to learn about the past and how black theatre stayed alive and prominent will help me see its importance in the realm of modern theater. This topic is not only applies to theatre but in film as well such as the controversy of the Academy Awards with only having white films being nominated. It raises the question that our society has with diversity. Focusing on the topic in the time period I want to show the parallels of now and the past. I intend on reading articles about the artists who were inspired in the time period that they were in to see how much of an impact it had during that time and see if their contribution made a difference to American theatre today.  I’m anticipating on finding how the social experiences of African Americans during Civil rights movement contributed to the plays that were produced during that time period. Did their work give identity to African Americans when they lived in a society where African Americans weren’t view as people I hope to find what kind of influences of black artist had during this time. Did their work express a clear political opinion of what they were experiencing. How did the artist of during era influence the artist that exist today? These are some of the questions that I hope to find answers to in my research. Researching the era of the Civil Rights movement interest me because as a person who was born in Africa and having lived there as a child, I had no knowledge of racism at all until I immigrated to the united states. Even growing up for the rest of the part of my life, I learned that racism to this day is a prevalent part of the American culture. In my personal life everything is literally just African and American culture. So researching this topic, I want to know more of how artist used African influences in their work or if there were any African influences, or if there was a clear distinct black culture that borrowed from African culture to redefine what it means to be black in America?  I hope that my research highlights the effects of how African Americans were portrayed during the civil rights movement to how it has affected modern day theatre.  The methodology that I plan to use are reading scholarly journals and articles that I can find through the library database, watching any documentaries about the civil rights movement or black theatre during that time, reading plays that were produced during that time to see if the play demonstrating or reflecting the events of that time. I hope that researching this topic I can understand the initial start of the black theatre in the united states and how it’s become so prominent to today.   The 1950’s in America was a period coined as the golden Age for its cookie cutter lifestyle that was portrayed during the new Affluent society and a thriving economy that most middle class American were experiencing and seemed to enjoyed. The new technological innovations such as television, automobile, and a rise of suburbia continued to contributed to a happy attitude towards this new lifestyle many middle-class Americans. The consensus culture during this time meant that there was not much room left for debate of what it meant to be American. People believed in equality but did not provide equality to those of a different race during this time. White American citizens lived in a contradiction by denouncing the Soviet Union for human rights violations while discriminating against African Americans. The emergence of the civil rights movement showed us how the picture of the consensus culture of the 1950’s was not as clear cut as it’s proponent would have us believe. Wide spread systematic inequality and poverty during this decade showed just how far away America was from living the ideal of equal opportunity for everyone. African Americans have always been fighting for equality, it just happens that in 1950’s was the moment in history where African American were actually achieving, and receiving the social changes that they had always been fighting for. The racial issues and social injustices during this time period allowed African American artist to become more in tune with the events happening during the Civil Rights movement prompting black artist to respond to the civil rights struggles by the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The desire of equality amongst African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement influenced and served as a catalyst for the reinvention of American theatre.      Since the 30’s, Black artists’ energy made significant contributions to the American theatre. However, racism halted so many of their contributions. The notable playwright Georgia Douglas Johnson wrote 28 plays, however her race and her gender many of her work were not published. In the face of having to endure racist and sexist challenges, Johnson became a prominent figure in the national black theatre movement was seen as a “cultural sponsor” inspiring the intellectuals and artists of the next agents of black theatre. Johnson divided her work into distinct genres: “primitive life plays”, “Historical Plays”, “plays of average negro life”, and “Lynching plays.” All of these distinct genres/categories provide insight to the African American experience, however, the “lynching plays” Johnson was able to insight of the atrocities and the impact lynching had on the African American community. Johnson once defined lynching not a racial issue, but as an “American problem.” This belief be Johnson was a new element to the lynching genre. Her blatant protest against lynching was a reason for her position during the Harlem renaissance to be jeopardized as a black woman activist. Johnson’s lynching genre “reflected her role as an outspoken critic of racial violence and well as her vision of theatre as a tool for social change.” As Stephens points out in the article, the plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson: From the New Negro Renaissance to the Civil Rights Movement. The desire for equality during the Civil rights movement was Evident in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Les Blanks. In the year 1959, A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorrain Hansberry was believed to usher in the new black theatre movement. It was the first African American play to appear on Broadway by a black female author, and it was also the first drama to be directed by a black director, Lloyd Richards. A Raisin in the Sun was a play that addressed the segregated housing policies at the 1950’s.  A Raisin in the Sun is a prime example of how the reinvention of black theatre was a direct result of the same issues that were needed to be addressed for freedom at a time of civil unrest.  Lorraine Hansberry was determined to use her work as an agent of social change. She expressed her strong beliefs in that African Americans should attain their civil rights. These beliefs were made evident in her final work, Les Blanks which was a story about the African quest for freedom from European Colonialists. Because of the Context of the play and its adherent connections to Africa, it was important to remember that the play was written by an African American playwright for an African American audience. It’s important to note this because the played was easily interpreted as a play that condemned the colonization of Africa, or while on the other hand being interpreted as a commentary on the race relations in the early 1960’s in the United States. Hansberry goal for writing Les Blanks was to illuminate the struggle of all Africans and African American to obtain a sense of equal freedom.   “It took a second world war to jolt many of us into awareness of our own worth. Then some of us saw the need to pass on our own heritage.” (Wiona L. Fletcher, 1994). Fletcher, a retired Professor of theater at Indiana University Shared her ideas of wanting to see more plays and stories of her own people when the only material the University had were material from white playwrights. In the 1960’s political activism, had become a prominent theme in most black theatre. There was a push for black power during this time and during a time of civil unrest. In an interview with playwright J.E Franklin, they were asked the question what did the ‘Black aesthetic mean to them’ and Franklin explained how she didn’t call it that term, but later explained how the black aesthetic was having a black perspective because everything was put in a white perspective of the everyday experience in life which was not true of how the world was. Franklin goes on to explain that there’s a need for more black institution because most of the stories and images created were created by white institutions that never accurately portrayed an authenticity of the black culture and the black world. White institution always portrayed the stereotypical black lifestyle. Black institutions built during the time of the civil rights movement was a gathering space for young artists and black audiences to grow. The growing passion and fervor during the late 50’s and early 60’s prompted black artist to be more daring with their artistic talents. Examining the works and life of Lorraine Hansberry influenced and inspired many black artists. Her play A Raisin in the Sun opened doors within people’s consciousness that people were not aware of. The power of A Raisin in the Sun made many black people aware in their uniqueness as blacks and encouraged black people to pursue their dreams. The play had confirmed that our dreams were possible. The play and its overall message to everyone made it possible for those who participated in its production to be embraced by both whites and blacks. Hansberry’s influence is evident in all the female playwrights who have come after Hansberry. Playwrights like Adrienne Kennedy, J.E. Franklin, Ntozake Shange and many found success in their work from the influence Hansberry.