By: Myliyah Hanna
I entered UVA in 2014, but it wasn’t until the spring semester in 2015 that the racial disparities on Grounds made themselves apparent to me. To be Black on Grounds was to be in resistance with something, to be the opposite of something, and for a while I couldn’t put my finger on what that “something” was. In the fall semester of 2015, however, the inaugural performance of “The Black Monologues” gave me the words to express my discomfort with the lack of racial awareness and revealed to me that I was not the only one feeling the tension. We all were.
2017, and the annual performance did not fail to remind us that we here on Grounds, in Charlottesville, and in this country, are far from progress. In the midst of a Trump presidency, hope has become a light in a never-ending tunnel. With both the KKK and the alt-right marching in Charlottesville, minority communities have been left to recover and heal after these hate-filled events.
“The Black Monologues,” once again, has provided the space for these conversations to begin and continue, offering nuanced opinions and perspectives on difficult subject matter. Put on by the Paul Robeson Players, this year’s production was directed by Jessica Harris and produced by Kristen Barrett, starring a cast of new and returning faces who performed monologues by an extraordinary writing team. The show ran for three nights during the weeks of October 12-14 and October 19-21 in the Helms Theatre in the Drama Department.
Beyond touching on the political in monologues titled “A Call to Action” and “You Will Not Replace Us,” the space created also touched on the purity of Black life, the most intimate of these revealed in “Black Love” and “How to Make Love to a Black Woman.” Giving the audience a moment to rest from the performance’s critical analysis of ongoing sociopolitical struggles, these two monologues enveloped the audience in passion and love, reminding everyone that Black love is more often than not underrepresented. When it is given to us, the cast paints a picture that is both striking and soft, one that demands proper attention and respect.
Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces in the entire performance was a monologue titled “QueVA.” The piece, crafted by the entire writing staff, brought two women onto the stage to sit and stare us down, telling the audience tales of the sexual harassment that occurs at fraternity parties. As a young woman myself, I snapped my fingers in response. Sexual harassment has been one of the most debated topics on Grounds and there was no silent woman in the audience. Certainly, everyone there who knew what it was to be hounded at parties, to be made uncomfortable in such situations, was able to relate to the monologue. The monologue has been called controversial, however, because frat members have felt misrepresented. Nonetheless, “QueVA” brings up an important point: sexual harassment needs to end.
Although some pieces were reused and although there were moments where monologues ended abruptly, “The Black Monologues” continues to prove its necessity. If the writing staff, the directors and producers and the cast are not telling these stories, then no one will. The Black Monologues, then, has become more than a performance. It has become a breath of fresh air, a chance for students to breath collectively and know that someone is listening. The experiences of Black students are not swept under the rug. They are brought to the center stage to be told, to be heard, and to remind the audience that we, too, matter.