All-Black Remakes Aren’t ‘Folly,’ But Arguing Against Them Is

May 15, 2012  |  

Truthfully, I could just post Blair Underwood’s profound response to the criticism the cast of the Broadway remake of a Streetcar Named Desire is receiving and be done because he so clearly pinpointed the underpinnings of the backlash, but since context is key, I figure I better provide some.

On April 22, a multi-racial production of Tennessee Williams’ classic, a Streetcar Named Desire, opened with Blair Underwood, Nicole Ari Parker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wood Harris. The piece was expected to run only until July 22 but stellar reviews have warranted another month of shows due to the positive response from people who have focused on the craft of the actors, rather than their color. Though Streetcar is not a story about race, the racial makeup of the reproduction has somewhat overshadowed the story they are telling, as one critic in particular made it his point to dismiss the play as mere foolishness.

At the end of 2011, before this production even opened, New Yorker writer John Lahr wrote a wish list of sorts of things he didn’t want to see in theater the coming year, and we can deduce from his words, that one of those things is this production. He wrote:

“And no more infernal all-black productions of Tennessee Williams plays unless we can have their equal in folly: all-white productions of August Wilson.”

It’s the age-old, if they can do it, we should be able to too, argument white people have used to fight black history month, the need for affirmative action, and any other policy, event, or situation that seeks to level the playing field among the races. What white people don’t realize when they make these silly comments is that they already can and usually are doing whatever it is we’re still trying to do, hence the push for whatever effort we’re vying for at the moment. That controversial sentiment continues to follow the film so much so that Blair Underwood and Nicole Ari Parker have almost had to defend this production, and perhaps after being questioned on the matter one too many times, Blair decided to make the case for this play plain and simple, for those who want to understand it. He wrote on Facebook:

“Though 90% of the reviews have been positive…(we are, after all critiquing an art form & everyone is entitled to their own opinions), it is in the commentaries from the likes of John Lahr (theatre critic for The New Yorker magazine) where you realize that there are those who are not even remotely interested in reviewing or critiquing the work and/or artistry upon the stage. Mr. Lahr & other so-called “guardian Elite” of the New York theatre world, would rather take a position of condescension & dismissal when people of color have the “audacity” to take on the extraordinary, beautiful work of Tennessee Williams. Once you know your history and know that there was indeed a culture of people (in the 1700s), endemic to Louisiana called the “gens de colour libre,” or “free people of color,” and that these people owned plantations & some actually owned their own slaves, there is no basis to dismiss the backstory of our Dubois sisters who hail from their family owned plantation called Belle Reve; Or to dismiss the part of the story where Blanche Dubois pines for an oil millionaire called Shep Huntleigh. If these dismissive Nay Sayers knew their history, they would know that there were a number of black people that owned oil wells in the 30s & 40s:

These are three actual black millionaires in the deep south of the 1930s & 40s that serve as prototypes for Shep Huntleigh:

-Lee Wilder Thomas

-William Madison McDonald

-Joseph Jacob Simmons

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  • Lorenzo

    Good Response to biogtry where one would think the mind set would be about the craft in 2012, Oh lest  I digress,. we have President Obama and that is the ultimate quota. What more could we possibly want. In my opinion so many people have shed thier liberal skin since the swearing in of President Obama. I am from the southern portion of this great nation and I have come to expect overt racism and I prefer it that way, I then have a working knowledge as to your direction. Since the swearing in of our president so many closet racist have exited as if enough is enough and I can’t pretend anymore to like or tolerate african americans. I say keep on with the educational tools that we have learned to use. Make sure your child learn to read and comprehend, stress positive reinforcement, copy basketball wives and show them that garbage as a deterent to how people should not act or treat other individuals (feeble attempt at humor).

  • W Veronica7

    Great article. This is the type of substance that should be blogged, not women fighting each other.

  • Its pointless. 

    • Why does a story have to be retold with BLACK characters for us to be “able to relate”. The story is about the plot. Not about the damn color of the characters. We can’t keep asking for this special treatment nonsense. Do we see asians and muslims doing this foolishness? 

      • Racquel

        When did race and religion become synonymous?

      • Emm

        I usually carry your same thought process but what I am coming to understand is that just because African-Americans are playing the roles it is not necessarily to be more acceptable to black audiences. As well, we also have to understand that this is exactly where we want the theatre to go! We want people to be in roles and see their characterization transcender the traditional color associated with the actor.

        I asked my friend, who happens to be white, if she would go with me to see Think Like A Man, and she said “ohh but that’s a black movie, I don’t know if I would understand it” and I just said, I see movie’s with ALL white casts all the time and never does it cross my mind that I can’t relate because the characters are white– hardly ever. But white people do find it hard to relate to an all black cast because they are the majority and the majority of films are catered towards there relationships. We should be more accepting of movies with black casts– if its an awful movie we should just say it was a bad movie and not lament on the fact that the cast was black. 

        White people have it easy because these things don’t cross there mind.

  • lol some folks can’t stand it when we do things better than them.. Keep on hatin.. lol

  • Cathy White84


    To Seek The  Serious Relationship.

  • Guest1234

    Beautifully put by Mr. Underwood!  Kudos.  He brilliantly put that New York Magazine idiot in his place. Way to call out the BS!

  • IllyPhilly

    Love it! And I don’t understand why folks would be against it. I think doing remakes of certain “classics”  brings in a whole new audience and makes the characters easy to relate to.  I actually said SCND seemed pretty much to be about a Black couple.

  • Tisha


  • RoRo

    Bravo, Mr. Underwood! Well said. Well said!