With the recent discussions on #BlackLivesMatter and stories shared about how black women have been treated in daily life, this verbatim play by Somebody Jones is very current and relevant.
In advance of its inclusion in this year’s Hollywood Fringe (which is taking place virtually), Black Women Dating White Men has been made available as a Zoom recording put together during lockdown, adapted for the screen and directed by Khadifa Wong.
As a white woman, I am acutely aware I am commenting from an outsider perspective and one of some privilege, but I am keen to learn more about the experiences of these women, who are played exceptionally well here by Merryl Ansah, Christelle Belinga, Arianne Carless, Clara Emanuel and Risha Silvera. As a team and as individuals they are excellent.
Over a 40-minute run-time we eavesdrop on a number of their conversations as they “meet” and chat together about their respective white boyfriends, and how being in a mixed relationship has impacted on their lives. Wine is imbibed, stories are swapped, and this is girls talking about their intimate feelings and fears, using text from a number of interviews to build a cohesive whole.
We hear about family concerns (“are you ok with mixing paint?”), about friends and their own hangups (“you’re lucky I still talk to you, dating a white policeman”), about black men and their innate belief in their own importance, about white men “who listen”, about stereotyping, identity, attraction, and perceptions (“people say ‘you’re a cute couple’, I never got that with a black dude”).
After all these years, and a long time after it was illegal for black and white couples to be together, it is clear life is still different for them, with pros and cons clearly articulated, and a sense of being on the sidelines even when lip service is being paid to accepting a black girlfriend into a white family. There’s a telling moment when one of the characters talks about her boyfriend having no conception of why she might not want to walk along a particular street.
For a digital collaboration of this kind to work, it has to have palpable and believable chemistry between the actors, and this is clearly evident, with their reactions and conversations feeling like real friends hanging out and sharing their shared experience.
There is a lot of humour, but also moments which pull a viewer up short and make them think ‘why is life like this?’ and why, in a supposedly progressive world where tolerance is an accepted virtue, there is still a lingering sense of prejudice and fear of something seen as different, like the colour of somebody’s skin. A moment where a child not yet born is already being protected gives pause.
Black Women Dating White Men is timely, well-produced, and engrossing throughout. I found it worked well in its format, with Jones and Wong collaborating to create a powerful piece of film that adds to the current debate about the plight of black lives in our world, while celebrating female friendship and resilience.
The show plans to tour in London next year with Present Black Fathers as part of Talking Back: A Night of Black Verbatim Theatre (which was meant to run at the Hope, Islington and the Bread and Roses, Clapham, this month).
Black Women Dating White Men is presented by Talking Back Theatre, and tickets are available at the Hollywood Fringe website, with the first performance taking place on 27 June.
My thanks to Somebody Jones for access to the press screener of this show.
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