This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
the movement in Africa is a little timid. It's like we're waiting for the West to come in and help us and give us the formula. Whereas from what I see, there's two sides in the West. Even in the gay communities, there's the Black gay community, or the people of color, and then there's the [white community.] And those are two totally different - It seems like when the white people are safe then quote unquote “gay life” is safe. In the media, I mean. More importantly, we have the ancestors to deal with. And a lot of us, our parents are the reason we're free, they fought for independence and our grandparents. We don't want them in exile. We don't want to say, “fuck you.” We want them in our lives. We legitimately want them. So we need to have that dialogue. And I don't feel like that's part of the conversation in the West. Their parents didn't really fight for them to be free - the whites I mean. So I feel like, if we could create a movement where we're having conversations about the things that are important to us in our community, in our way of dealing with this animal, this beast. Then I feel it's useful. What I feel is not useful is these NGOs coming in and dumping money and then using 50 percent of the budget with their flight plans from a Westerner coming in, and not paying the African activists who are actually going to the village and the rural areas, who are risking their lives - this I don't find useful. And I understand why the African activists do it. But I don't think the Western model - that single-issue model - is ever going to work for people of color. That, I hope stays in the podcast. [laughter] Nia: I will not cut that out, you have my word. [musical intro] Nia: Welcome to We Want the Airwaves. My name is Nia King. Today, I interviewed Nick Mwaluko who is a journalist from Tanzania as well as a playwright and a short story fiction writer. This interview gets really heavy really fast and continues to stay heavy, and get heavier at rates that are… I mean, we just went really deep. I want to give you a heads up because we talk a lot about rape, we talk a lot about violence, we talk a lot about sex and we talk a fair amount about God. I feel like there are a lot of things that could be offensive if you take the things he's saying out of context but I think that if you listen all the way through, you'll get a much better sense of what kind of person he is and where he's coming from. Without further ado, here's Nick. [musical interlude] Nia: So you just mentioned that your play - how do you pronounce the name? Nick: Waafrika. Nia: Okay. It's still running. When did it start? How long has it been running?
Nick: I think it has a three week run. And it started, I think, May 23rd. I think. But I'm not sure. It's bad that I don't know the date... Nia: Have you gotten to see it? Nick: No. Nia: No? You haven't seen it at all? Nick: I haven't seen it. [laughs] Nia: Is that on purpose? Nick: No. It's a little theatre company. We have a $200 budget for travel. I work six, sometimes seven days a week. So to go on a plane and come back, it would've been out of budget. But I trust the director, Nicole Stodard. Nia: You haven't seen like a video recording or anything? Nick: Nothing. Nia: Holy shit! [laughter] Nick: Nothing! [laughter] Nia: Is that nerve-wracking? I mean you said you trust the director, which is great, but it must be weird to know that lots of people are seeing it, and that you're not seeing it. Nick: She gives me the feedback of how the audience is taking it. And she gave me an idea. She's also a pretty reticent person about her creativity, it seems. I hear from other people that she's great, but I've never heard from her how great she is. She finally told me how she staged that final scene, which is a female circumcision scene. It is kind of surrealistic. Because of her spiritual core and her personal tragedy which kind of anchors her in reality, I thought the surreal would be good for her. From the way she talked about it, and from what I've been reading in the reviews, it seemed like she really captured what the themes of that moment are, and what the reality of the moment [is]. The surreal, and the real, it has to be both. I think when you go through any trauma, if it's rape, if it's female circumcision - male circumcision too, male rape too, any kind of trauma that you go through - both elements are speaking to each other [the surreal and the real]. I actually think that's why Scorsese when he does those - and even the Italians - when they do the gangster scenes, it's underscored by that operatic music. Shakespeare does it too. To me, they're side by side [the real and the surreal]. Time is different when you're being traumatized. Even flashbacks – well, obviously flashbacks – but, time is different. Everything is different.
Nia: Yeah. Nick: I feel more alive when those moments happen, strangely. Nia: Are you a big fan of gangster movies? [laughs] Are those a big influence on your work? Nick: I like violence because for me, violence is the easiest way to access the divine. I find a lot of the divine in violence. I think that you need the floods to create a new world. I think that you need to cut off your chest, breasts, whatever, what's between your legs, to start the new world. I think you need the scars. I think it's very necessary. I think you need to be marked. I think you need to be crucified in order for you to go into the next realm. I really do. So yeah I'm a big fan of [it]. But I like it when it does something towards the divine, I don't really like it when it's gratuitous, when it's there just to be. Which I think is Tarantino's problem. Nia: [laughs] Nick: [laughs] But who's asking me? Nia: Well, I’ll ask you! [laughs] Nick: What's Tarantino's problem? [laughs] Nia: Well, I think you just answered that question. But how do you discern in films, for example, the difference between divine violence and gratuitous violence? Nick: Because the divine violence - what happens to you after you're raped is that you're a new creation. The divine violence - what happens after the floods is that you have a whole new world order, you know, with Noah, that whole thing, a new world, a new human being, a new species. The resurrection is that new being. The beauty of it is that you can then confront that overwhelming thing that you thought before would kill you. And it did. You know, a father who loses a child and has to bury the child is not the same father. And he's not the same man. And that's what I like. If you can see Nick and then Nick Prime, the new creation, then the violence, for me, it's great. Because it means you've washed away two things. One is that old form, which is too anchored to reality. And then with it comes, you're overwhelmed. What am I overwhelmed by? The prospect of being raped. What am I overwhelmed by? The prospect of being circumcised. What am I overwhelmed by? My parents abandoning me. All these things. In the new form, if I really am like, “Nick, in that old form you took this and you took this and you took this, and you're alive. You're more than alive.” And you look at it, and it doesn't have power over you? Hey. So that's actually what I look for. I don't just look for like, revenge. No. I really look for that new creation. In the being, you know? In the person. Because I think once you look at it anew, then the world is new. It's not that the world has to be new. I don't even know
if Noah was actually in a new world. But certainly after those floods, I'm sure he saw the world differently. That's it. For me, that's important. I don't know when I'll ever get to see it differently. Unless I have to imagine it differently. And what a gift, that we're able to and not just as artists, but just as people - we're given that provision to be able to see the world anew, again and again and again. Yeah, like that. Nia: Yeah, sorry I just need a minute. 'Cause this is the most I've ever had my mind blown so quickly so much in the first couple minutes of an interview. [laughs] We're talking about rape and violence as being divine, which is… It's not bad. I'm just saying this is really heavy stuff and I'm trying to wrap my mind around it because I'm trying to think of more questions to ask you. It's just so deep what you're saying. I've been listening to a lot of conversations - I don't want to derail the conversation too much, I want to stay focused on your work, but - about rape [jokes] in comedy, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of it. Rape has been a big - there's been a lot of conversation in the media and in politics about rape in the last year or two. It's weird, it's weird that we're all talking about this now and we weren't talking about it before, and we probably won't be talking about it again the way we're talking about it now. Nick: Right. Nia: I've just met you, but I think that when you talk about rape as being “divine”, you're not talking about it the same way that a conservative politician is saying that a child born from [rape] is a gift from God. Am I correct in that assumption? Nick: No...you mean the woman has been raped and so she has a baby? Nia: Right. That’s not what you’re talking about…? Nick: No, I'm talking as someone who was raped, in a different form, and what do I do with it? Like, what can I do with that tool? Just as an artist. Because it's useful, it's very useful for me to have had that experience, and it's useful for me to have had it in this form. Nia: When you say “form” do you mean like “body”? Nick: Yeah. Nia: Like “human form”? Nick: Yeah, in this body. Yeah. I think it's useful for what it did in that body. It's useful for what it made me feel in that body, and it's useful for what it makes me feel in this body. And it's kind of like, “Well what can I do with it?” I don't want it to have power over me. I don't want to have that certain posture towards it. There's damage that comes with it. But I think it can also bring about a very… I'm not afraid to look at the pain, and to articulate the pain, and to also articulate what the pain made me do. So that I could just
go beyond the survival, and go towards something else. Even if that other thing is ugly. Like re-enacting it, or whatever it is. But whatever that thing is, I just want to get - I think 'past it' is not the right word - but I want to get beyond “why me?”, and that way of seeing it. And I shouldn't say I want to. I have to. A lot of the fear of violence is because it's uncomfortable, it makes people uncomfortable is - I mean, a lot of theatre is pretty violent. Shakespeare's pretty violent [laughs] by modern standards. And a lot of theatre is quite bad, and a lot of life is quite [bad] - you know, comfort is - It could be “comfort i.e. dead.” Discomfort, I don't think is bad. But like, what can I do with it? What do I feel happens during those moments happen of extreme violence. For me, time seems to go a lot slower. For me, a new language comes in. Things are a little bit brighter. I'm not necessarily in my body. I'm not necessarily out of my body. I tend to identify more with the person who's perpetrating the crime for some reason than I do with the victim, i.e. me. And these things for me are very useful to use in the work. So I can't demonize - I could, but I don't like to - demonize the rapist. I don't like to victimize the - for a long time - the victim. I don't like the language to be too real. I don't like the lighting to be too real. I don't like the movements to be too real. Because that's not what happens to me. Nia: Mmhm. Nick: Yeah. And I feel like all those things are inviting another world. Well, what world? If I can choose, I would rather it be now that I'm helpless. Now that I don't have any power. Now that I'm on the ground. Now that I'm being pinned down. Now that it hurts. Now that I'm completely vulnerable. Who can come in? God. That's how I prefer to look at it. Of course, it could be the Devil too, right. [laughs] But, yeah. And how does God come in? I think in the lighting, in the timing, in somebody saying something to me that I need to hear, that more importantly I can hear, because when I was powerful and I had money in my pocket, I couldn't hear it. That's kind of how I see it. That's how right now I use it. I don't know if that's going to be - Oh hell, it could happen again and I'd be like, “Ah, enough, I can't use it.” So I don't know. Nia: So in the scene that we got here by talking about, you were talking about how your first play ends with a female circumcision scene. And I'm guessing, as the writer of the play, you didn't tell the director how to portray it, you just wrote it in and then it was sort of up to her creative interpretation? Nick: Yeah. Nia: And do you know what it is that she did with it exactly? Nick: What she said was that she put a grill; a grill that was a screen between the audience and the stage in that final scene. And the mother – Awino, the main character has many many mothers because her father, the chief, has many wives - and they were holding that grill. And then they put the grill, I don't know whether they put it on her or
whatever, but she goes to the place in order to be circumcised. She strips naked and they do, I think, a dance or something. And each of the mothers cuts her. And the lighting shifts so that the lighting goes more and more red, so by the end of the circumcision it's bloody, but she's also bloody. And then - this is not usual for a circumcision, men shouldn't be around when it's female circumcision - but her father finds her. And somehow the lighting changes when he completely takes in who she is, he takes her hand, and takes in everything. And kind of like touches her and comes to terms with the decision that he allowed them to make. Because she's in her thirties when this happens, and it's late. Usually circumcision happens at seven, eight, nine, latest thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. That's late, fifteen. So this is somebody twice the late age. And once the father says his lines – again, this is not real - she gets up kind of, and says, "I am," she swipes between her legs, shows the audience the blood, "woman," then she says "falling, falling, falling." Then she falls again, and then she says "Who will receive my body when I fall? Who will receive me when I die?" and there's a blackout. And that's the end of it - that part of the play. We couldn't stage part three which was longer. We couldn't do it, again, budget restraints and all this. But I think that her getting up again, for me, is that Nia: - it's a rebirth. Nick: Yeah. Yeah. She didn't stay there that long. But the good thing is we also said to the audience, listen, this is a suspension of disbelief. Nobody who gets circumcised three times is going to get up [right away]. So that's good, the audience knows that. The other thing is she's resurrected, and she has a new body. She doesn't have a clitoris, but she's a lesbian. So how're you going to be a lesbian without a clitoris? Well, we got to see. And she can get up. She can get up now. Then the next installation is for the lover to see, to come to terms with “this is what our relationship has meant to this village,” and then for her it's “you know, by village standards, I'm a woman.” That's the way to go from girl to woman is to circumcise. “But now that I'm a woman, am I still a lesbian?” Which is what it was supposed to be. That removal of the clitoris was like removing the penis from her. It was to say she has this deviant behavior because we didn't cut it at the right time. So it grew and grew and grew, like a penis would grow, and that's why she's attracted to [women]. And now that we've cut it, let her answer the question, “well, are you still a lesbian?” To me that's the most important thing, because they've already killed her, in a sense. But now she's got to say, “well, have you killed it?” The identity that I'm trying to claim.” And to me, no. To me, you can take anything away, but that is an important part of who she is. I almost want to say it's sacred. [laughs] Nia: So the play doesn't actually end with the circumcision scene and her rebirth. It actually ends with this open question about whether she's still a lesbian? Nick: [That’s how the third act ends, but] we couldn't do the third part.
Nia: Mmhm. Nick: So the full thing of the play really ends when she's able to say to the village, to the father, and to the ancestors at the burial ground, "I am a lesbian." Nia: At the burial ground...Did she die? Or you can't tell me? [laughs] Nick: No, she goes there. You know, in the beginning she goes there to talk to her mother who's dead, so they return there to pray and stuff. The final scene is actually that she's there, and she has to say it. Because she's been avoiding [it]. She's been living with this woman, but she's not “out”. And in those days, when I was your young age, [laughs] in Kenya, that's how we did it. In Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda. That's how we did it. We were cowards. And the AIDS crisis was going on at the same time too Nia: I'm sorry, this is how you did what? Nick: That's how we were lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans. There was so much fear. And we took all that. Really, the violence that the government was aiming at us, we took it out on each other. It made us do strange things to each other. Especially if you saw the person who was kind of in your category or role or whatever, it was almost like the hatred spiked. It was bad. And you had to do it, because if you didn't do it, the government would get you and you'd die. So you had to do it. Nia: You had to do what? Nick: You had to betray. You had to tell people. You had to pinpoint. So let's say, for lack of a better word, you're butch, or you're masculine, and you're going out with a feminine woman. She gets caught, or people hear that she's with you. Now, how come you're friends? You don't go shopping together! Why are you friends? Some people are starting to be suspicious. She's in her twenties, in her thirties, there's no boyfriend on the scene. This is odd. But it's this one, this one keeps coming. There's an influence here, we don't like it. They sit her down, well what's she going to say? She's going to say, well that person keeps coming on to me. And then they deal with you. And of course your parents are like, “well, the evidence is there - you look boyish, you're acting like a dude.” So you lose a job, you go and you're fishing out of garbage cans, you're sleeping on the ground, you're confused, you're lost, you have nobody, you can't really reach out to her again, it's risky for her. And you do care about her. It's not like [you don't]. So all those things are happening, and then you see another one, who looks like you, butch, whatever. And you see that they're dressed well, they can eat, they can get a job, whatever, and you're kind of jealous. They're surviving. So sometimes you do things out of that. You take their girl. [laughs] But you do something, because you're like, “Well, I'm actually paying for the thing that you're enjoying. My body's being punished for the thing that you're enjoying, and you're sneaky. And I'm going to repay you for that.”
So we did a lot of that. We did a lot of that. And more! But we did a lot of those things. And so I just wanted to write a play where the person would actually have the guts, no matter what was happening to them or what was going to be done to them, for them to say "You can do whatever you want. This is who I am, you can't take it away." Because I feel like the movement in Africa is a little timid. It's like we're waiting for the West to come in and help us and give us the formula. Whereas from what I see, there's two sides in the West. Even in the gay communities. There's the Black gay community or the People of Color, and then there's the [white community.] And those are two totally different - It seems like when the white people are safe then “gay life” is safe. In the media, I mean. More importantly, we have the ancestors to deal with. And a lot of us, our parents are the reason we're free, they fought for independence - and our grandparents. We don't want them in exile. We don't want to say, “fuck you.” We want them in our lives. We legitimately want them. So we need to have that dialogue. And I don't feel like that's part of the conversation in the West. Their parents didn't really fight for them to be free - the whites, I mean. And so I feel like, if we could create a movement where we're having conversations about the things that are important to us in our community, in our way of dealing with this animal, this beast. Then I feel it's useful. What I feel is not useful is these NGO's coming in and dumping money and then using 50 percent of the budget with their flight plans on Westerners coming in, and not paying the African activists who are actually going to the village and the rural areas, who are risking their lives - this I don't find useful. I understand why the African activists do it. But I don't think the Western model - that single-issue model is ever going to work for people of colour. That, I hope stays in the podcast. [laughs] Nia: I will not cut that out. You have my word. Nick: [laughs] Nia: So my dad's best friend is from Uganda. And he teaches Social Work at Simmons in Boston. And he takes a group of Social Work students over there every year. And a couple years ago I went with them. And they were, I think, all white women. And we went to a bunch of different NGOs to see how, I guess, how social work is done in Uganda. And one of the things that I saw was that a lot of the NGOs seemed to be owned and run by Westerners. Nick: Yes. Nia: And that they hire other Westerners to do the jobs that it seems like they should be training Africans to do so they can become self-sustaining, self-run organizations instead of continually dependent on...
Nick: Right. Nia: They should be building skills among the folks who are already there instead of coming in with their expertise and leaving or not leaving. Nick: Right. Nia: And then another thing I saw, and I don't feel like I understand this phenomenon completely, but is that when Westerners come in, it displaces people. It raises the cost of living and the people who - I mean, I don't want to say it's like gentrification because Nick: But it is! It is like it, right? [laughs] Nia: Well I don't know. Is it? Nick: Well there's a certain value to [white] skin all over the world, a certain privilege that comes. And this is nothing against the Western or white skin or whatever it is, it's just the reality of it. And for some reason - I wasn't colonized in the classic sense of the word, I mean not the way my parents were, and my grandparents. But for some reason, I had to work my mind from that mental slavery of “when it looks like this, it's supposed to be better than me.” Because that's how I was raised. Not because of the money and the wealth. But literally, “they will speak the language better, and they will be able to do math better, and they'll be able to read better, and they'll be able to understand better. And anything that looks like you probably can't do it as well.” And with that comes a certain kind of, “Oh yeah you know, we know you're not supposed to be living here but we'll do the best that we can to make it as civilized as possible.” That is there in Africa. We've been successfully colonized mentally. Many of us have been successfully colonized. And then we don't take trips to South Africa, to see the reality. We didn't do it then and we don't now. We don't even take trips - we're in Tanzania, we don't take trips to Uganda, we don't take trips to Kenya. West Africa's a bit different, they travel a little bit. But we don't. And the West has a hold on a lot of people. That idea of a Westerner. That has a huge hold. And honestly I'm not against it. I mean we're seeing all these countries Singapore, China, and all these other countries, Japan - that are saying, “If we die let it be in the hands of our own.” And Nigeria now has had a sustained way of saying it, “It has to be self-sufficiency.” I think the best thing - it was painful at the time - I think the best thing sometimes that can happen to you, is you're falling you're falling you're falling, and you have no one who'll catch you. And you think you will die. And then you realize, “No, I have this strength, and it's there, and I've never used it. Why? Because I never had to.” And I feel like, that's what we need. We don't need outside forces that really don't have our best interests at heart coming in and telling us how to live and pitying us and thinking that this is the only way. And then I think if we can do it for ourselves we can have a kind of posture that we need to have before people who are supposed to be “better than us.” And
I'm not saying they're less than. But I don't see anything better than us. I don't see anything better than. And Nigeria's doing it. You can see Nigerians are interested in education, they're interested in all these other things, and they're saying “Nigeria for Nigerians.” Nothing wrong with that, I don't think. I don't think it's jingoistic. I don't think it's nationalistic. I think every country - I mean, Lord knows to break into the American theatre, I have to change my name to Smith! [laughs] I do! Because otherwise I'm not really an American. No matter how long I stay here. But if they come with a play, they get to go to the National Theatre! This is the truth. I think it was before 2000, at least when I came here, for me to get the visa to come here, I could not be HIV positive. If I was HIV positive I would have to stay. But the other side wasn't true. For an American to get a visa to go to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, it didn't matter whether they were HIV [positive] or not. So what are you saying about my life? What are you saying about our lives? If that person was HIV positive, accidentally - I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt - infects someone. It's in everything. So you have to say, well, if our governments are undermining our own value, our own lives, then what do the others who are outside looking in think of us? That's all I'm saying. I think we need that backbone. And if it means certain generations are crushed… it has to be that way. I'm being a realist. Some people will work and never see their - Nyerere died not seeing the beauty of the Tanzania that he wanted to make. But we've never had a civil war. We've never had tribalism. Never had a coup d'etat. Never. I'm not saying it's peaceful. But I'm saying, we don't have - I don't look and say, “What tribe are you?” Because of all of his efforts to make it one Tanzania. But he died not seeing this. But it was a great vision. Mao died not seeing the greatness that China's becoming. All I'm saying is, you know, invest in the people. We keep giving away our pain to the West. And we know historically that what Westerners do with Black people's pain is they enslave it and they make money out of it and they kick it and they make it bleed and then they go back and say how great they are. There's a history. [laughs] “Westerner'” is a euphemism for “white.” I don't care what I'm not a racist, I'm really not. I'm just looking at it and saying, well, when will I be human? Nia: So you said that to break into the American theatre scene you'd have to change your name to Smith. [Nick laughs] How did you break in? How did you become interested in playwriting and then how did you get this play produced? Nick: I wrote a lot of fiction, and would submit it everywhere. Everything came bouncing back - rejection, rejection. And then I wrote a lot of poetry, I wrote a lot of other things. I think it was school, I was failing the Fiction class or something like that. Because you also have to get those books and that was expensive. So I said, “Well what can I do that's only pen and paper?” and they said, “Well, playwriting.” So I went in and wrote a scene.
And it was a very bad scene, but the person who read the scene turned the paper over, so the words were facing the table, and the back of the paper was facing up. And it got me very upset. So at night, I just said to myself, “Well, Nick have you ever gotten that upset over anything?” And I said “No, not over any other writing.” Nia: Wait, why did they turn the paper over? Nick: It was a really bad scene. It was such a bad scene. You read it over now, and I don't even know if I have a copy. But I remember it, it was just, you know, it's like, nobody talks that way. [laughs] Like what is this scene? Nia: So not bad like violent like “I can't read this,” but bad like “this is not well-written.” Nick: “This is not well-written.” Nobody talks like this. There's nobody who's like this. And she was a good actress and great reader. So she turned it over. And it got me upset. And I thought well, maybe if there's so much emotion over this, maybe this is the thing. So I came in with another scene after listening to other people's [feedback]. And something clicked. I liked doing it. Then later on, I thought, “Well, why not submit?” And I kept submitting. I've been rejected quite a bit. But then I had a play of mine published. And the woman who's doing the play now, she read the play and wrote a critique or something online. And so I emailed her and thanked her. And we got to talking, and I said, “Do you want to produce that play?” No, she said, “Can I produce the play?” And I said, “sure.” And then we just kept in touch. Nia: I'm sorry, so how did she find it? Nick: You mean playwriting? Nia: How did the woman find your play who ended up producing it? Nick: Oh, it was published. That play was published. She read it and critiqued it without reaching out to me at all. So I found it. Nia: So you just found it on the internet that she'd written this critique about your play? Nick: Yeah! And I was like, “What the…?” So I communicated, just to thank her. You know, “thanks a lot for doing this.” And then we kept in touch and everything. She told me a little bit about herself and why she's interested. And I liked talking to her. And the thing is, she kept saying, “Nick I want this to be pure. My experience in the theatre.” And I quite appreciated that. She told me a little bit about her life. Her sister had died of cancer and stuff. And so she had been kind of skating through the theatre. And once her sister died quite young, she wanted to commit herself to it. And I thought, “I want to be with this person because the calling is coming from a special place.” And I like Nicole. I like dealing with her. We're friends.
Nia: And how are you feeling about the reviews that are coming back? It seems like they're mixed reviews. [laughs] Nick: Right? Nia: It seems like people are really spellbound by the final scene. That's something that's been written about a lot. I read a couple of the [review]s that you sent me, and there seem to be themes. People agree that the last scene is totally mind-blowing, and horrific. People seem to agree that you write the language for the African characters really beautifully. And the critics also seem to think that the language of the white characters seems a lot more stilted. How do you feel about the feedback that you're getting? Nick: I mean, I'm glad that they came out and they saw it and everything and all that. But I feel like, when did they ever know how Africans talk? So how would they…? I think Bobby, the white character, for me is a very real character. And her language is real. And one of the criticisms has been that she has no flaws, she's too perfect. Not the reviewers, but from some people. And I think it's almost the opposite. She's too selfish, she's too one-sided. I mean, she keeps the dream alive. She keeps telling Awino, “You can do this thing.” She keeps that relationship. In essence, Awino is always like, “Go leave, go leave.” And Bobby's like, “I will do what you say, but you can do this thing.” So in a sense to me, that's one of her main virtues. She's a custodian of the dream. She's kind of like the midwife of that dream. In one of the reviews, it says “from a sociological point of view, this is probably the most important thing you'll see in it this year.” But the sociology that they list are all the African things. I also think that maybe white people should look and ask themselves. Because they - right now, with Beasts of the Southern Wild and a couple things - they're writing our stories, frankly. They're writing how in Beasts of the Southern Wild, how a Black man deals with his daughter, in that movie. Nia: I'm sorry, was that written by a white writer? Nick: Yeah, white writer. Nia: Huh. I did not know that. Nick: So I was like, well you're looking at a Black man dealing with his daughter in a particular way. And I don't know. I have questions about that. About the tenderness that is lacking. You know, you want to make that Strong Black Woman, and you think these are the scenes. But, whatever. Fine. So you're doing it. And hey, great. You got some roles, you got some actors. But in Tarantino's thing of giving the gun to the bandit. What was that? Nia: Django?
Nick: Django. All right, so if I were a slave roaming the woods wherever I was, a runaway, and a white man gives me a gun, who would be the first person I'd shoot?! [Nia laughs] So that's it. That story's over in the first fucking minute. [Nia laughs] But all right, you got your awards, you got your acclaim, you got your great actors. But I want you to know how I see you. And this is how I see you, as a lesbian. And, that's how I see it. I'm not going to change it. Because I think they need it. I mean, you do Lion King, and you tell me what you see of Africa. And I have to sit there and go [claps]. But I want you to know, I see you like this, and I don't think Bobby's a particularly spiteful character. I think Bobby is in my opinion, the kind of white person I wish I could have in my corner. That's it. In the conditional tense - I wish. I wish I could have somebody that fierce. I wish I could have somebody willing to die for me. And that's not just white or Black. It happens to be that she's white. And the white thing, making her white was simply because, with a white woman you know people are going to look in the street in a rural village, because she's the only one who's going to be [white]. And you know, it's easier to say these are the Western dreams. If I had an African American character, a Black character, I don't know if I would be that comfortable writing it that way. Because I would be like, well, in a sense Bobby is persecuted by the community. Do I want to persecute an African American for being? For me, another person might write that story. But for me, that's not a story that I would want. It would be harder for me to write, because I feel like, but to me, they are African and they do belong in the community and they wouldn't go to the burial ground without understanding what it means to a group of Africans. I just feel like, the place of the church in the burial ground. They would know. But Bobby would go there because of the way Bobby is. I just feel like it wouldn't be that spiritual - I don't know, maybe these are all stereotypes, prejudices. Maybe my ear is not attuned to white characters but I don't… This is what I see when I see them. This is how when I've been loved and fucked and fucked over by them, this is how I hear it. They say that a lot. They compare it to Ruined. Lynn Nottage just won the Pulitzer Prize. She had a whole team. I mean, it's just me and Nicole working day and night, you know? Nia: You said that maybe you're not attuned to writing white characters. [Nick laughs] My question, and I'm going to try to explain this and come back to it, is whether you think Western audiences are attuned to you. [laughs] I mean I haven't seen the play, but the things that you're representing, the things that you talked about already are such incredibly loaded issues. There's already sort of a way of talking about female genital mutilation in the West that doesn't seem to be informed much at all by African opinions or experience. Nick: Right. Nia:I think it makes it hard as a person who is critical of Western imperialism and its relationship to Western Feminism. And also… no amount of moral relativism makes female genital mutilation look good. I think what I'm trying to say - I'm struggling with
this question is - I always worry when I try to represent communities of color in my work about how other people are going to look at it, whether those people are white or they're other people of color that are going to say “We don't want to be represented this way. We don't want our dirty laundry out there. This isn't the kind of stuff we want people thinking about us.” Do you feel like the audiences in South Florida that are going to see this play about Africa have any way to understand the nuance and complexity or even just the broad-strokes of this play and what you're trying to do with it? Nick: I think the access is - hopefully - is the emotion. I think we all know what it's like to live a lie and that it's killing us. I think we all know what it's like not to claim the person that we love. And I feel like we all know also what it's like to flaunt the identity without actually claiming that identity, and it's kind of hidden and tucked inside. And we all know that we're fully alive when we claim something that's so sacred to us. Hopefully, they connect to that. I don't feel like it's my responsibility to make people comfortable with the way in which death is almost an everyday thing. I had two brothers in the beginning, when I was very little, they died. I mean people die all the time. And I'm sorry to say - it's a big deal, yes but it's not a big deal. Because a lot of people die, because of typhoid, malaria, AIDS, whatever. They die because they don't have enough money to buy Malaraquin at the kiosk. They die. And you're there. The Luos the body up for thirty days. You have to touch it. Child or not, you see it rotting. It's out there. This is the way that it is. I almost feel there's also the same kind of death that goes on here for those people who are not canonically beautiful, canonically this, canonically that. They go through a kind of death too, because they're not accepted. I feel like there is that connection. With the audience - from what Nicole tells me, I don't know because I haven't [been there] but from what Nicole tells me - They cry. They laugh. They're there. Even though he has many wives, they know that that session with the wives sitting together talking about things, they hear how this is women's talk. So, I feel that maybe the audience can understand it. But the critics or the reviewers or whatever they call themselves, they say they want a new voice, and they say they want new stories, and they say they want these things, but I don't know if they're actually committed to [it.] Because I'm not going to write a white person who… Some of the writers write it so that the white person is always a threat and they have very little power over them. My question always is past 1960 or 1950, why would I have such a white person in my life? I just wouldn't write that person. Blood has already been shed, people have already done the work so that I can be free, why would I go back to the slavery? I wouldn't have them in my life, leave alone fucking them or them fucking me. [laughter] So to me, it's like, well she may get it wrong, and they may not want to see that white person, by which I mean a white person in service of a Black. I don't feel the critics are comfortable with seeing in a sociological – because that's the line – “from a sociological standpoint” - to me that's a very important thing. Because the country's changing, the United States. The world was always Black. But the country's
changing. Hence the global appeal of people like Jordan, whatever. Larry Bird was around, he didn't have that global appeal. [Nia laughs] Because he doesn't look like the globe. So the world has always been what it is, but America's changing. And “in service” is a bad way to put it, but I don't really think I would want my woman, or my lover, my partner to be with me in this struggle if she's not committed to the struggle. Okay, maybe she doesn't understand all the consequences of it. But she's got to be committed. And I think when you decide, “Listen I'm going to leave my place and you go to a rural village, no electricity, no running water…” If you stay, you know what you're getting yourself [into.] They're quite desperate. There's a way that things have to be done and it's been done that way for a long time. And if you throw someone into the city centre, how they would… I just feel like they would know. What they don't see is that Bobby stays. What they don't see is that Bobby's committed to the nth degree. What they don't see is that she's the custodian of the dream for a long part of the play. What they don't see is that Bobby's hatred of white people means that she can never really have Awino love her own, because she's alienated from herself too. So they don't see all those things, they don't want to bring [them in]. And from a sociological point of view, I feel like that's just as important. But it's never mentioned because they're so fixated on “there's no white person on the earth like this.” Oh yes, there are. It's just maybe they're not your friends. [Nia laughs] And then the other part of it, they're like, “oh the sex comes in and it's just too mindboggling.” It's a graphic sex scene. I was just like, “Well, maybe they need to be fucked by a lesbian to know how graphic it can be! And how good it can be!” [both laugh] I mean, you're just free! You're like, oh! You know what I'm saying? If the government is going to kill you for fucking, you fuck. Keep that in the pod[cast] [laughs] Nia: I will not take that out. Why would I take that out? [laughs] Nick: You fuck to the nth degree because the gun is right here, the gun is here, the gun is there. I mean, we fucked. We really fucked. We had to fuck because it was your last fuck every time! Have you had your last fuck? Nia: No. Nick: When you fuck, it's your last - This should be in the Bible: “When you fuck and it's your last fuck, you fuck.” Let me tell you, you fuck, you suck, you lick, you do it all because shit! You don't know when it's going to end! So to me, I was like, “Well, clearly they didn't have some in a while.” [laughs] It was crazy. It was crazy. I mean, we did it outside, we did it - I mean, I was helped by the fact that I looked like a boy, but we did it in places where - and they would always be like, [whispers] "We're going to get caught, we're going to get caught." And I'd be like, "No." Nobody would suspect that we would actually have the guts to [do it.] But it was good! Because the government - of course there's the attraction and all that - but part of the beauty was that you knew this could be your last time, so you gave your last. You gave it all. Oh my God. And to me, sex at the time was synonymous with love. It really was. I was giving my last all the time. It was
great training. It was like the Olympics of fucking every single time. [laughs] I don't know what else to [say]! I don't understand why they don't. I mean, I don't really care what the critics say. I care a lot what an audience goes away with. And what Nicole says. And she also said Bobby's this kind of person, that kind of person, you need to work on her. Those things I care about. Not that the play is parallel at all, but like The Colour Purple with Alice Walker, and the transition that the men went through. People gave her a lot of heat for that. But that novel, the principal relationships are female relationships, and we saw such a range. We saw such a range. And it was so beautiful to see. In a patriarchal society, watching those women and what women could be, when men are at the center of the world. [Women] who have been disenfranchised, damaged, and hurt for centuries. I mean, it was beautiful, such a powerful - And so if it came at the cost of all that noise… The reason for writing the play was to help my personal fears and how I'm easily overwhelmed and stuff like that, but it really was also to say, “You guys, we don't need to hide. And we don't need to hurt each other like this. We can have this conversation and survive it. And if we don't survive it, the fact that we've died and we've left something so sacred for the next to work with. This was an important thing. For us.” (musical finale)
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.