On first Thursday my course Black Feminist Theory taught by Professor Heidi R Lewis had the pleasure of attending “American Prom” by Idris Goodwin. As I had not had the pleasure of seeing an Idris Goodwin production since his departure, my excitement much like those of the theatre and the rest of my classmates was palpable. “American Prom,” an original production by Idris Goodwin takes place in Principle, a small American town located in anywhere USA, that features a coming of age story. In Principle, Jimmy T Jr a teenaged white boy wants to take his childhood best friend Kia a black teenage girl to their first prom. However, proms in Principle have been segregated since the beginning of time, often with the excuse that people tend to keep to their own. In a play filled with magic and music, Kia and Jimmy dare to imagine Principle in a different light and confront the issues of race in their town while discovering truths about themselves. Throughout the play Jimmy and Kia have confrontations with their parents over the state of Principle as well as issues dealing with racism, segregation, sexuality and homophobia all working to push them to find ways of dealing with these problems. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will leave it at that.
As I sat in the theatre amongst my classmates, I became very intrigued with the notion of reimagining a future and preoccupied with who is allowed to have a happy ending in fiction and in real life. While many parts of the play I found entertaining the ending is what lead me to the questions I have now. Was this ending realistic? Was it not? And what pushes me to question the way things ended? I left the play thinking the ending was “wishful thinking” but as I sat in my room and ruminated over it, maybe the complicated feelings I had were the exact point of the play. Why was there this hesitation about the reality of the ending? Was it because I couldn’t imagine it for myself or was it something else? In a play about imagining a different future for one’s self and community why was there this discomfort? After much thinking I realized, it is difficult to imagine new realities with what you have been given. But it is not an impossible task. Taking those feelings, I began to look at the play in a different light. Two kids trying to imagine a different reality than what they were given and trying to make that imagination a reality with what they had was hard but not impossible. Anything worth trying to change will always be a challenge but it is not impossible. Why can’t marginalized people have a happy ending? It is an important piece that doesn’t always get its due respect. Understanding that I began to believe that happy endings for marginalized people was possible and something to look forward to, but more importantly something to truly work towards.
Premiering at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, the play American Prom, written by Idris Goodwin, follows the story of Jimmy T. and his friend Kia B. as they navigate the complexities of racism and homophobia as they exist in small-town America. Jimmy, a white boy, and Kia, a Black girl, attempt to address the issue of racism by suggesting an alternative, all-inclusive prom in opposition to the town’s traditionally racially segregated one. In this process, Jimmy and Kia find themselves pushing their relationship forward through the discussion of racism as it is seen within and between families and in the greater community structure.
One of the most salient moments of the play for me was the discussion that followed Jimmy asking Kia to prom. It seemed like this was one of the first concrete discussions the two had had involving their racial differences. Kia made clear to Jimmy she could not attend prom with him because she was expected be the preacher’s son’s date at Ebony, the all-Black prom. Instead of respecting Kia’s answer, Jimmy interpreted the response as a form of reverse racism. This reaction caused obvious tension in their longstanding relationship, leaving Jimmy alone to think more about Kia’s choice. The next day, in a drunkenly induced dream, famous rapper and Jimmy’s idol, Iz Icon, visits Jimmy to discuss the events of the previous night. Iz Icon helps Jimmy understand why Kia’s response was completely warranted. I appreciated this scene because Jimmy was able to realize and come to terms with his mistake without the help of Kia. So often the responsibly of apologizing and teaching falls into the hands of the wronged and oppressed.
While I found the play to be fairly thorough and authentic in its discussion of race, the ending left me feeling unsettled. Jimmy and Kia return home after running away to find their parents jointly decorating the garage for their dream “Garage Prom.” Then, Jimmy and Kia proceed to get dressed in the midst of an impromptu dance party with famous rapper Iz Icon. Together, they all sing a happy-go-lucky song filled with themes of community and triumph. While this ending may have satisfied some of the audience, I felt like this idealistic finale did an injustice to the play. To me, the overly positive ending failed to acknowledge the work and attention racism still commands in today’s society. This ending allowed for the possible conclusion that an eighty-minute play could somehow address and solve racism in the United States. I would be interested to hear the writer’s and director’s explanation in deciding to write and portray the ending as they did. I can imagine that if the ending were more realistic in its conclusions, people would be less likely to see and promote the play. White audience members in particular may feel attacked if their outwardly anti-racist views were not reaffirmed through an optimistic ending.
The outrageousness of Kanye West’s most recent public fight with his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose has caught a lot of attention. In response to harsh words exchanged between Kanye and her ex-boyfriend Wiz Khalifa, Rose tweeted “Awww @kanyewest are u mad I’m not around to play in ur asshole anymore? #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch.” This was a dig obviously meant to undermine Kanye’s masculinity as a straight-identifying man (because anal-play is strictly a homosexual act, right?). Kanye responded, “Exes can be mad but just know I never let them play with my ass…I don’t do that…I stay away from that area all together,” clearly reassuring Rose and the rest of the world of his masculinity and heterosexuality.
In a society that correlates anal sex with homosexuality, the suggestion that Kanye participated in and enjoyed receiving anal pleasure called his sexuality and masculinity into question. As Chong-suk Han points out in “Sexy Like a Girl and Horny Like a Boy,” “The notion of masculinity is socially constructed, with the very definition of what is and is not masculine constantly negotiated and altered” (225). The construction of masculinity is a power play that only maintains its dominance by consistently belittling what it is not: feminine. A large part of being masculine is having sex with women, so men who sleep with men cannot be masculine. Hence, insinuating that Kanye was gay because of his sexual preferences belittled his fragile masculinity and caused him to issue a retaliation assuring everyone that he “stays away from that area all together.”
Common responses to such offensive comments on social media include, “If you don’t like it, then don’t pay attention to it!” or that it is simply entertainment. But, as David Nylund points out in “When in Rome: Heterosexism, Homophobia, and Sports Talk Radio,” media entertainment is “neither innate nor harmless.” The fact of the matter is these views and opinions held by celebrities influence the views of their fans. Similarly, in “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture,” Douglas Kellner claims, “Learn what to enjoy and what we should avoid. We learn when to laugh and when to cheer. A system of power and privilege thus conditions our pleasures” (232). It is because of this system of power and privilege that the homophobic comments made by Kanye West and Amber Rose cannot be ignored. By insinuating that participating in stereotypically gay sex acts should be taken as an insult, West and Rose perpetuate the notion of homosexuality as inferior to heterosexuality and promote heterosexism.