CMU School of Drama

Friday, February 10, 2017

The N-Word on Stage

HowlRound: Jordan Cooper was reading the autobiography of Lucille Ball in Bedford Junior High in his hometown thirty miles outside of Dallas, Texas, when a passing classmate knocked it out of his hands and said, “What you reading,” and then added what we are going to call the n-word.

“I pushed him against the wall,” Cooper recalls. They were both brought to the principal’s office.

Less than a decade later, Cooper, now 22, is an actor and playwright living in New York, who recently starred in a play he wrote, Ain’t No Mo’, that repeats the n-word some thirty times.


Helena Hewitt said...

I think that it is important for people to be able to reclaim words that historically were used to insult, belittle, and demonize them. However, those words should not be used without an understanding of their cultural and historical weight and those words should never be forced upon someone. I comfortably refer to myself as a “queer” woman and use the same word to describe my larger LGBTQ+ community, however, I would never use the word to describe someone who was uncomfortable with it, given its complicated history. So I agree that the identity of the storyteller is extremely important. A derogatory word cannot be reclaimed or empowered by someone it never belonged to in the first place. This article states that to stop using the word altogether, particularly in historical contexts onstage, would erase and sanitize history. And I agree with that, but I believe that using the word too casually, with no respect for its history, using it just to appear hip, for instance, does the same thing. There is a balance here that has to be struck and I believe that balance will only be found by allowing black artists to shape the way this word is used onstage.

Emily Lawrence said...

While I am not one to use this word at all in regular day to day conversation, I do support the use of the word to some extent. In historical contents, I think it is very important to use the word because it is something that shouldn't be pushed away as if it never happened. It would almost seem as if we were trying to erase part of history by doing that. While it is not a word that should still be used, it is important in setting the time period and the atmosphere in which the play/musical is occurring. On the other hand, I do not think the word should be randomly thrown around in a show or overused. By doing this, it becomes more natural for an audience to hear the word which is a problem that people are still facing. By making it normal for the audience, it encourages the use of the word in some way. I think that by using it maybe once in a show, it can be jarring enough for the audience to realize the use of the word is not natural. I do think that this word can be used, but it should not be overused.

Vanessa Ramon said...

I think this article hits on a very hot topic in today's society and theatre's community in general. I have never been one to accept the use of the n-word in everyday life, but when it comes to using it in theatre I think it can give a historical accuracy that drives the message of the play home more than not having the n-word would. I am currently working on Ragtime and as the article mentions, the use of the N-word by a certain character in the play is disturbing. I hate watching that scene, but in many ways, that word is doing its job. It give the audience a small reality of that time and how words were said back then- how people were treated. In Ragtime, the word is contained to one character and is used to historically present the scene and it certainly does that. It gets the audience more invested. Overall, the use of this word will always be something to consider, but we must not forget the affect it had back then, and the affect that it still can have now.