Dillon came home from a great field trip last week with Northlight Theatre Camp to see Shrek the Musical, presented by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Theatre in Chicago.
“How was the play, I asked?” mostly thinking it was a cute and innocuous attempt by Broadway to engage younger audiences (although I heard gasps of mortification when “Spiderman: The Musical” opened on Broadway in New York last January).
“It was good,” he answered, a pretty inane expected response from a nine-year-old. “But it had a really bad stereotype,” he continued. “Donkey was the only African -American actor, and he cussed, used bad words, and bad grammar. And he was the only one who did it. It was really stereotpyed.”
In watching the movies, Donkey (or “Ass” as Shrek affectionately called him once or twice) was played by Eddie Murphy. I never noticed the stereotype. It was just Eddie Murphy just being…well, Eddie Murphy.
But Dillon’s immediate perception had me looking in the program book, and, indeed, the Donkey character was the only African-American actor. And the only character, literally, making an ass of himself.
Do you stop and call the theater? Set up picket lines in front?
Of course not. But do you give your child a hug and think “maybe he is actually listening to me? Absolutely!
Unconscious bias is formed over time by repetition of stereotyped roles, that kids absorb daily from TV, books, others around them. Doctors are White. Robbers are Black. Shrek, white, is kind, caring and insightful. Donkey, black, is loud and uneducated.
For my generation we took images in media as universal truths. For Dillon’s we break down stereotypes to see how they divide and alienate, and use that dialogue to as insight into creating an inclusive society that starts at home.
I just didn’t realize he would be smarter and more perceptive than me so young.
What are you watching with your kids? What are you talking about?
Photo credit: METRO.co.uk
Ok, the Donkey key is supposed to be what was made popular by Eddie Murphy . If the Donkey was white or black face..(white playing black), then people would bitch, moan, cry that black actors are being oppressed by broadway. Or people would complain because the donkey didn’t sound like the character’s voice in the movie.
I want to audition for the Donkey roll but because I am white I fear I would not be considered because I am it black. See how the vicious cycle continues. So unless Broadway and community theatre will break the traditional roll barrier, then it is what it is.
Hi, Bill–first, thanks so much for your comment. Really appreciate it. My immediate “unconscious” thoughts as I read it affirm? concur? capture? not sure what the right word is, but immediately thought of Angelina Jolie playing Daniel Perl’s wife, who in real life was African American–I do remember outcry at the time.
Similarly, I saw a play at Remy Bumppo theater in Chicago–the play was set to take place in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The daughter of the wealthy white family at the center of the story (about a family with a “Bernie Madoff” sort of tale) was black. and, that fact had absolutely nothing to do with the script or the plot–it was just a fact.
So, I suppose Kudos to Remy Bumppo for casting the best actors for the roles, and more silent introspection for me on our unconscious thoughts and meaning (or lack thereof) that we project into situations.
Hi, Bill here from Vegas. First I need to proff read my comments first. Sorry for the typos and gramTic erros. Using my sell phone. I get what your saying cast the best actor for the role. Don’t always go with the traditional, unexpected move keep the audience on their toes. The main question is does the donkey truly have to be a black actor. I guess I am looking for a yes or no answer. I am going to audition soon and will audition for the donkey along with other rolls available for my age range.
I have been told I would make a great donkey.
Shrek is green, though, not white.