Say What?

Praise Be, that Aint Buckwheat

I never saw black children onscreen when I was a child growing up in London, Ontario, except Buckwheat from The Little Rascals and Arnold from Diff'rent Strokes. They were mischievous, and they pulled funny faces. At no point do I remember a dark-skinned black girl who was smart and confident that I could point to and say, 'I want to be like her.' Penny from Good Times, maybe? Nah. She was being physically abused by her momma (remember that very special episode? With the iron??) and pretended to be Mae West. Oh Norman Lear, you did not understand little black girls in the 70's. *insert ironic coincidence here* A Wrinkle in Time Producer's Norman Lear connection

This was running through my mind when I took my nieces and nephew to see 'A Wrinkle in Time' this weekend. Even though they hadn't read the book I felt that it was important for them to see kids that looked like them onscreen. They're biracial, high achieving, happy children, but female and male heroes of colour in films are in short supply. When Ava DuVernay chose to cast Storm Reid in the role of Meg Murry she opened a door to a universe of possibilities for children of colour; it was a door I could never envision for myself when I was 12 and in love with Christopher Reeves as Superman.

Meg is smart, with big curly hair, and glasses. In fact she's a brilliant example of what a child exposed to science technology, and mathematics can do, if they had faith in themselves. The character is never embarrassed or shy about her abilities to solve a problem with physics. She understands that her faults can be her gifts and at some point gets out of her own way; but she does starts out as a self-conscious, sullen, angry, teenager. She hates the way she looks, is bullied, and get called to the Principal's office where she's given the opposite of a pep talk.

Meg comes around to appreciating her kinky, curly hair, and that's huge. Little black girls are bombarded with images of black beauty that reinforce the idea that only straight, silky hair is beautiful.  She scorns a compliment about her hair early in the film and it's a reaction to which I could completely relate. I wanted swishy hair, hair I could flip over my shoulder, and not be affected by shrinkage from pool water. Meg shakes off those shackles in a nifty moment where she pulls her hair into a bun and receives another compliment, which she accepts graciously.

At the end of the film my nieces were all atwitter about Storm Reid and her performance. They loved her, the child who played her brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and Meg's mom, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, MBE. I loved seeing this powerful, yet understated representation of strong women who didn't need to be saved.  Meg saves herself and family with intelligence, math, self reflection, and the realization that from pain comes strength.

Or, as Mrs. Who, played by Mindy Kaling, quoting Rumi says, "The wound is the place where the light enters you". 


Growing up in London Ontario was difficult as a little black girl

In July 2016 I was asked to write a short essay about being a black writer in Canada. As it is Black History Month and I'm still a writer it feels fitting to post this on my website.

Thank you Michael Wheeler and Sarah Garton Stanley for giving me this opportunity.




Aint That Something?

I always wanted to be a writer and then I was but had no idea what that really meant. I always thought I'd write fiction. Novels and short stories were the goal. I was asked by many why I didn't write plays and I always said, 'I don't know how to write plays; I was never taught'. And that is true. 

I went to theatre school to be an actor. I trained at Sheridan College and University of Toronto and, at the time, there was not a playwriting course. Besides, I had no illusions about being a playwright. The only reason I wrote a play was because I had a friend transitioning from male to female and had an incredible life story that I believed should be written down. She said, 'Go ahead, I give you my blessing,' and that is how Damaged was born.

The problem was I am not a member of the LGBTQ community and not transgender. The play had a couple of readings at bcurrent but when I attempted to get interest elsewhere I was roundly criticised for telling a story that was not mine. This was in 2012. Transparent, Transamerica, and Orange is the New Black were not in existence yet. I was defiant, at first, because I believed I was telling a very important story. Alas, it was not my story. It was my friend, Lillian's story, and she had moved to another part of the country and could not care less about what was happening in Toronto. 

Lillian found Toronto a hostile place for transwomen in 2010 and couldn't wait to leave. My play was supposed to illuminate those who didn't know how great the trans community was in our city. I gave up trying to produce that play many years ago because there were plenty of trans actors who could tell that story better than me.

I'll never forget the blistering letter I received from Yvette Nolan that basically said, 'how dare you?!' and Sky Gilbert gently coaxing me to move on to another play. In retrospect I'm glad I was schooled in 'appropriation' since writing at the time was so new to me. I moved on to write a different play that I titled Eating Pomegranates Naked and the genesis of that piece is just as interesting as the birth of Damaged. Hopefully I'll remember to write about that tomorrow. Let's just say that there's a goldmine of ideas in your daily newspaper. Inspiration is everywhere; take it from someone who was named when her father found the name Andrea on a piece of garbage in a TTC subway car. True story.