Sunday, March 15, 2009

thinkTank: American Ethnic

I've had an extremely busy week and haven't had a chance to write, but I wanted to make sure I blogged about my favorite conscious artist (and my husband), Usman Ally!!! He wrote, along with Idris Goodwin and Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, and is performing in Remy Bumppo's thinkTank production, American Ethnic. He wrote and performed a one-man show for the production last year, and, because of its popularity last year, is again performing in another hip hop theater/spoken word production. I've seen the show twice since it opened Friday and it is AMAZING. I'm not just saying this because he's my husband...the 3 of them have written such thought-provoking, intelligent, creative, open and very raw pieces. The Director, Nick Sandys, has put the pieces together very well and offered some great direction for the performers. And the simple but wonderful set, lighting, and great music brings everything together.

The show addresses a variety of topics related to how the media shapes our ideas about race and gender, from stereotypes about the "American family," to misrepresentation (or elimination) of ethnic/cultural groups on TV, to all the products and glamour on TV that draw us in and then tell us that we aren't good enough the way we are. 

My favorite pieces are the open and raw poems that have been written by the artists about their experiences with the media and how they have given into it, whether it is the stereotypes of other groups or the misinformation about themselves not being "good enough"...because this is the real stuff. No matter how much we pretend to not be affected by the media or to give in to stereotypes, no one can be immune. 

Idris Goodwin wrote a very touching piece about his travels to Jordan and being confronted by stereotypes about Black Americans, while at the same time, realizing that he himself had been traveling in Jordan carrying the stereotypes of Muslim Arabs....That's real and people need to hear this. Everybody has some stereotypes and's what you do with it that counts. 

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai has a nice piece about all the glamorous TV shows that tantalize us with skinny models, Prada, mansions, and the lives of the rich and famous. How many people do you know that pretend that they don't care about those celebs or don't need the fancy clothes, and they like themselves exactly as they are? Who do you know that has TRULY never stood in front of a mirror and examined how their own self matched up against these other men and women (real or not) that they see on TV? 

Usman wrote a funny and sad piece about the reality of actors of color, constantly being called in to audition for the "foreign student" or the "terrorist" or "thug" and being asked to play up stereotypes and act "more scary" or "more gansta." He's my husband and I hear how his auditions go, so I know that this is a reality for him that causes a lot of moral dilemma. We do have bills and he is relatively new in his acting career, so he does debate over whether to take a role for the money or to get his name out more....but at the same time, he struggles to uphold his own morals and values. Another piece of his, Us and Them, talks about the lack of news coverage (and empathy) of wars and unrest in other countries. (I posted this piece below for you to see).

These are the pieces that people need to hear and that most people can probably identify with on some level. This show is absolutely outstanding and offers a very non-threatening way to discuss some of these issues in the media and society. American Ethnic runs until March 29, 2009, so check it out soon!

Here are a couple of articles about the show: 


The story is of drones, and predator strikes,
Where the US army has taken this fight,
Dropping bombs from unmanned planes in the skies,
On villagers who instantly see carnage before their eyes.
Of how they fought back with a suicide bomb,
And blasted through a Market during the month of Ramadhan
How the boy strapped on his bomb and prayed to his Quran,
He flicked the trip and ripped himself to bits.
Body parts lying in every single place,
But the cops knew who he was because he left behind his face.

Real Talk.

Like a mask that peels right off the flesh,
Lying in the debris, sockets open where his eyes used to be.
Mouth wide like he regretted a second too late,
The news reporter holds him in the air, a symbol of our hate,
And its all…so…real.

The violence, the gore, the terror on the screen,
Inundates the airwaves of every Pakistani teen,
And we sit and wonder out loud to one another,
“Where is Barack Obama now?”

Americans, know we live what you do not see,
The bloody images and videos are never seen
In the states they sanitize, water down and clean
And simplify, so that death is just another number on the screen,
But the president…he knows…exactly whats going on,
How people here are met with death from dusk to dawn.
So we wait and see what exactly he will do,
Act now and act fast or pass the buck too.

Because I remember how it was in places far off,
When I was a kid violence flared up, and gunshots went off
See, I was perplexed, by the complex nature of what was happening in borders next,
180,000 Africans dead in weeks,
And the great liberator turned a blind eye to the meek,
The term Genocide was not applied to the Rwandan people,
And the US stayed back fearing a Somalia sequel,
And I watched every day with my very young eyes,
As bloated blue bodies floated down Victoria’s lake,
Victims of machete attacks mutilated bodies from rapes,
Civil war perpetuated by a colonial history,
And Bill Clinton’s inaction in our minds a mystery.
When it was over, he visited to hear some little kids sing.
180,000 lives was worth a plaque to him,
Mounted on a wall, thumbs up with a twinkle in the eye and a grin.

And where Clinton missed out, Bush followed suit,
Where an Isreali soldier sees Arab boys and he shoots,
Gaza kids throw up rocks instead of jumpshots,
They run, bullets spray and they are dead on the spot.
And its all…so….real.
Its not Hamas vs Israel, Israel vs Hamas, its far more complex,
When kids are in line to be the next guy with the C-4 strapped on his chest
See my brothers over there they got zip, zero, none,
Their future reached its climax early and they are done.
Over there hope don’t float, and they are going for broke,
But in the states, its dummed down by reporters
Who say “its Jews vs Muslim its hate vs hate, led by dumb vs dumb.”
But Bush covered his eyes, covered his ears and played dumb,
100s of 1000s of Palestinians dead, as long as no Americans,
Then his job was most definitely done.

And I am not oblivious to repetitive inaction,
I am not oblivious to political distractions,
I am only human, and I put two and two together,
And I ask myself often whether
I am to believe that time and time again, it always boils down to one thing.
that its all about the color of your skin?
That life is worth nothing if you don’t bleed red white and blue,
That your passport dictates how much the world cares about you.

So I’m tired of blaming the public and tired of the News too,
So I’m directing my question directly to you
Mr. President:
How many Pakistanis will it take to match one American life?
When it happens will they put the dead bodies on the TV to see?
Or will they sweep it under the rug, and flash a number on the screen?

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