Anna Deavere Smith (1992)

I think the same themes and concerns from the mid-80’s are still with us. It’s been said before, but, to me, the greatest challenge remains the creation of a truly American aesthetic. The first step in this is to see difference, to really see it, and not pretend it doesn’t matter or will go away.

It’s hard for me to say if inroads have been made over the last five years, if there are more possibilities for me as an African-American actress. In part, that’s because I have concentrated on solo performing in that time. In part, it’s because I’m not sure how complete the changes have been. I wonder how much the recent activity has been tied to following grants and money. Or if that matters.

What worries me about the future is how quickly people have become glib and dismissive about all this. There’s a tendency to label it “pc,” politically correct. I’ve observed a rising suspicion towards the issues of cultural diversity in many fields recently, from both whites and non-whites. Also, even within the circles of those of us committed to “cultural diversity,” frequently this is discussed as though all groups of color only exist in relation to the white majority, when, in fact, we live in a society where we’re all in relation to one another. It’s not just a series of one-way streets.

In the future, I would like to work in a theater which allows groups of all different people to come together with equal authority, shared power. Which brings those diverse groups together, rather than being content with forming small ghettos, which is what we have now. In order to get there, I have to take some responsibility as well. I have to continue to watch and value those imaginations that are different from my own, rather than only like mine. And I have to find a way to continue to address these issues in my work as a performer and writer.

I’d particularly like to find images which question gender and race at the same time. I don’t think there is yet a real vocabulary to do that. This is apparent, for example, in new movies focusing on the real and disturbing plight of the young black urban male. Once again, the black girl is silent and invisible. They are in similar circumstances, yet we only see how those circumstances affect black men.

Of course, it is important to stress in all this that the financial conditions of the theater forces all artists to mobilize around its survival. Who knows how this will affect the possibility of further experimentation around these issues of race and gender?

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