Why are white people villainized in black aesthetics? This was recurring thought throughout my experience reading the play, An Octoroon. However, I realized that the black arts movement is based on the fact that black people have been more brutalized over the years than their white counterparts. For example, M’Closky is an evil white overseer who purchases Zoe and Terrebonne. Black characters are, on the other hand, naïve but honorable traits, for example, the struggle of educating Zoe despite the conditions in slavery.
The playwright presents a scenario where the traits for these characters ought to be dynamic and not static. This is why he presents the characters in redface, blackface, and whiteface. This is also used to present the case where race is just a social construct. Therefore, the positive and negative traits can be shared evenly between black and white people. However, to reach a scenario where black and white people are equal. There is, however, a need to expose the kind of oppression that white people subject the black people.
I also realized that the playwright was very keen on applying melodrama in his work. I would think that this was to clearly illustrate that there may be polarity that the black people’s oppression in the hands of the white people has bred. For example, the reliance on the character M’Closky, who is a fraud as a prosecutor, reveals that the white people may have perpetual power over the black people unless there is an intentional reversal of role between the two groups.
Relative to all other plays studied under the concept of black aesthetics, I understand the reason why the play won the Critics’ Circe Theatre Award in 2017. I would attribute this victory to the application of melodrama to represent the relations between black and white people.
- Jacobs-Jenkins, B. (2015). An Octoroon. Dramatists Play Service, Inc..
- Morgan, J. A. (2018). The Black Arts Movement and the Black Panther Party in American Visual Culture. Routledge.