After viewing the play If Dreams Came True, by Mark Kuntz, currently being performed at Western’s underground theatre, the Anti-Racist White Student Union believes that the use of blackface make-up in this play is not effectively contextualized or explained as the racist practice that it was. We recognize that it is not the intention of the writer to perpetuate the negative stereotypes embodied in the performance of minstrel shows. The history of this play portrays the experiences of the writer’s grandfather at West Point Military Academy in the 1920’s, however, it is unclear as to whether this play is supporting, condemning, or taking a neutral stance on this racist practice.
We feel that presenting this period piece could have been an excellent opportunity to confront racism in our collective history and educate those who are not aware of the harm caused by minstrel shows. Prior to opening night, we sent a letter to the director requesting a brief statement to be inserted into the playbill that would include an explanation of the ugly history of minstrel shows, how this form of theatre contributed to the negative stereotypes of people of color, and clarifying that this production is a critique of racism at the time. A statement preceding each performance could have sufficed. These requests were denied by both the director and writer, therefore, we have taken it upon ourselves to compile our own handbill that is currently being distributed at each showing.
Based upon this history and the refusal to explain it, we feel that the writer, being a white male, is in an extremely high position of power and has taken no responsibility or accountability towards this presentation. We recognize the beauty in letting “art speak for itself,” however, when a performance piece has heavy racial overtones there needs to be some action taken to recognize society’s interpretations. Being that this is such an incredibly racist society already, without taking a firm stand against racism, we are left to only affirm it.
To those who choose to view this play, we request of you to further research the effect slavery still has on our society today and the true implications of blackface theatre.
Members of the Anti-Racist White Student Union