In a world that is saturated with stories about White women living in the city and “doing it for themselves,” it’s refreshing to see three Black women on stage making a mess of their lives. Being strong and super human is the stereotypical name of the game for Black women in almost every facet of entertainment. If you look at any number of the shows currently on or off Broadway, Black women frame the story of their White counterparts as domestics, gossips, nerds, and pretty much everything in between, as long as it’s on the outskirts of the society they’re helping create. But Aziza Barnes’ BLKS (Currently up at MCC, directed by Robert O’Hara) is challenging the narrative of what Black women do.
photo by Deen Van Meer
Set in that weird space where gentrified Brooklyn, Bushwick, meets Bed Stuy “Do or die!” We follow three friends and roommates: Octavia (played by Paige Gilbert) , Imani (Alfie Fuller), and June ( Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), as they navigate the ins and out of New York City. Without giving away the whole story (because you should definitely see it!), all these women are navigating their love lives, even going so far as to bring up the really difficult conversation of Black women in queer relationships with White women. As someone who believes that White women and Black men are the weakest points in liberation (don’t @ me; by and large they want closer proximity to White manhood as opposed to actual liberation), I am constantly confronted with my own proximity to attraction in terms of White people; especially White women. I think the love trials in this play are more than relatable. Even the seemingly heteronormative relationships left me thinking, “Yeah, I’ve been there too.”
Aziza does the hard work of reforming the default. Normally, when the script doesn’t specify the race of the character, white is seen as the default and the universal standard. To undo that narrative takes some real guts, guts that I believe Aziza has and will continue to use as we watch the rest of her career unfold. But, the trials and the joy these women experience are mainly things that could happen to anyone. My hope is that in making Black women’s stories relatable, because so much of what happens to other people also happens to us and vice versa, people may be able to better understand and support Black Women.
Essentially, I think Aziza is doing the Lord’s work. Is it perfect? No, nothing is. But it is working towards more human representation of Black Women and that is typically only afforded to the greats, like Audra McDonald and Rebecca Naomi-Jones (both of whom are currently on Broadway, playing roles traditionally performed by White women). I think the main point of BLKS is that we are entitled to make a mess of things just like everyone else. In this story, being a strong Black woman is not required, but these women still embody it. They get to do it all and in the end I think that’s what we all want.
For tickets to BLKS, now running through June 2, use code: BLKSBOLD for $40 tickets.