“Bitch” Author Seeks Better Representation
By Patrick Hurley
Facing adversity and not backing down to the challenge, Sacha Elie has written, directed and is starring in her powerful one-woman show Who you Calling a Bitch?!? At the Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood. Ms. Elie, who focuses on the absurdities surrounding the entertainment industry’s treatment of black women, specifically, how black women have been pigeonholed by the industry into having to reduce themselves to clichés, simple one-dimensional characters that fill the television and film landscape with women of color who are perceived as either obsequious or malevolent, sometimes both, tackles these clichés head on and forces a catharsis that is as powerful as it is transcendent. This show asks big questions, and seeks for a greater understanding than the author herself can provide.
Taking place in the holding room of a television audition, we, as the audience, are given a glimpse at how it feels to be a marginalized woman of color, and how not just letting go of, but how embracing these aspects of oneself can be just as enlightening as it is enraging. One of the characters that Elie plays is Mammy! A trope so overused and belittling it’s insane to think that it’s still alive and well in contemporary film and television. But it is. However, this play isn’t really interested in blaming anyone, it’s not an “anti” anything piece, it actually embraces some of the more tiresome representations, and seeks for resolve, rather than point fingers of blame.
I recently spoke with Sacha Elie about her process and reasoning behind this particular show.
What was your inspiration for this show?
Sacha Elie: A 1984 Interview with Diahann Carrol. It was her first day on the set of Dynasty. In describing the freshly created Dominique Deveraux she mentioned that she wanted to be the first black bitch on Television. That struck me, I had to sit with it and re-watch that interview a couple of times. Because I feel that in 2017 we are bombarded with images and examples of Black Bitches. As someone who has always had a hard time fitting into or playing these tropes or stereotypes, I began to notice how it has affected me as an artists and as an individual.
Why then choose to Play a Version of Mammy in This Piece?
S.E.: I can’t say if its Mammy’s voice that intrigued me initially. I think I spent so much time, running from the “idea” of Mammy, as an actress that I never stopped to really see for myself who she really was, or what she represented to me. Because of the controversial narrative associated with Mammy, a character played most famously by Hattie McDaniel, (who she won the 1939 Best Supporting Actress Oscar in Gone with the Wind) I automatically shied away from her and all the roles that I’ve felt
symbolized the role of a “Mammy”. She’s an interesting character on so many levels, because in films like Gone with the Wind she isn’t even given a name. Her job, her position, her status, is just that! A Mammy. With Who You Calling A Bitch?!? I felt I had the chance to really unpeel the layers and redefine Mammy for myself through my own lens.
Part of her controversy is that she stems from the mind of Margret Mitchell, who is a white woman. With this show I really had the opportunity to create Mammy through my own lens. It was a chance to give Mammy a narrative from the perspective of a modern day African-American woman.
Mammy’s voice was probably the hardest voice to hear and write for. But now she is one of my favorite characters in the show because I feel that this 2017 modern day version of “A Mammy” gives a voice to all the Mammy characters of that era. Its has if we finally get to hear their voices that we may not have had the opportunity to hear.
What Else do you Want Audiences to Hear, or Take from this Show?
S.E.: How much do we really SEE each other? A little more often I’d like to admit, I’ve felt invisible as an artist, and as an individual. No one ever really thinking outside of the box when it came to the things that I’ve often felt more then capable of doing or performing.
I hope to shed a light on those who feel, disenfranchised, and/or marginalized to be seen, heard, but most of all for those who do feel INSPIRED enough to go out there and CREATE their own work. I’ve been cast in countless shows where I was the background as a racial or female trope. Being fed up, I decided to cast myself and I now no longer wait on others to see me as I see myself.
Is That Why You Wanted Become a Writer?
S.E.: I became a writer because I had to, or I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to play the roles that really challenge and inspire me. Luckily I really fucking enjoy being a writer!
Having Said All That, Who is Your Target Audience For This Piece?
S.E.: The show is from the perspective of an African-American Actress. I was inspired by the countless conversations that I’ve had with my African-American friends who are also actress and performers. We face the same challenges and have been around for quite some time and are still facing the same roadblocks, while we’ve had to watch our male counterparts and other members of our community who may fit into other ethnic categories catapult into bright careers. The talent pool is just as equal to those that have “made it”, but I think it truly comes to opportunities that are offered and it amazes me how many talented African-American Actress are still grinding and working just to get into the “room”. I don’t think its a coincidence; I think its a silent epidemic that unfortunately is not seen.
But I 100% believe that this show is for anyone that has ever felt marginalized or disenfranchised. On an even larger scale, its about the tropes and boxes that we often put ourselves and each other into. I hope to add a bit of humanity to the invisible faces of Hollywood.
The industry has taken giant leaps when it comes to storytelling and representation, but it doesn’t mean that the work is done. We have a long way to go, I believe that when we stop having necessity and a need for conversations like these, then, maybe, just maybe, our work might be done. But There is still room for more than one or two Shonda Rhymes, Ava DuVernay’s, Kerry Washington’s, and Viola Davis’s. There is always room for more!
Is this Then the Kind of Art you Want to Continue to Make in the Future?
S.E.: Oh Gosh! There’s so much that I want to do! I don’t even know where to start. Let’s see! I hope to continue to tell stories that are cutting edge, that are a bit uncomfortable that have been left untold for those same exact reasons. Right now my passion is to share and create stories for those that feel invisible and disenfranchised. But I hope to do it in a way that is thought provoking and that makes people smile or laugh because honestly I’m tired of all the drama! But my impulse is leaning me toward my family. I’m Haitian American. My parents both immigrated from Haiti over 30 years ago.
We are a huge community across the states and in Europe, all over the world really. But only a small percentage of the population are aware of our community and of our culture within the American and global community. There are many great up-and-coming Haitian American storytellers that are paving the way right now for newcomers like myself. I want to add to the Haitian Narrative, that is where my impulse is leading me next.
And What are Your Future Plans for this Show?
S.E.: I head to New York City to produce this production at the acclaimed, United Solo Festival on October 29th. I’m also speaking with an educator who is interested in workshopping this show for their advanced drama program filled with about 15 women of color in each class. I’m working on using this opportunity to teach young girls of color to develop their own work. I think helping to develop young minds to be creators both in front of the scenes and behind is a valuable skill to have now more then ever.
And so What advice would you give to young actors of color who want to work in this industry?
I think right now young actors of color are taking charge of their careers. It’s happening right now. Most of the black female artists that I know are not waiting any longer for people to give them opportunities. They are creating and becoming the actors, the writers, the producers, the showrunners, directors, the studio execs, the Boss Girls. It’s really exciting, because these women, my peers who have walked through the fire with me are teaching me everyday to pick myself back up. Most of all to take responsibility for my future. So to those who feel that they have hit a plateau I would say go out there and just create. Put yourself on the line, its hard, its really hard, and there will be tough choices and sacrifices, and you may even be shamed by some of your peers. But as a good friend once reminded me, “A Great Artists Is Always Misunderstood.”So to all the artists out there, I say claim your great artistry, even if you may feel like giving up. Its never over until you decide its over! Create! YOUR VOICES MATTER! That would be the biggest message I hope people get from this show. Do not wait on others to see you as you see yourself. Go out there, put yourself on the line and create.” Inspire yourself so that you can, “Hopefully” inspire others!
Come and see Sacha’s show at the Hollywood Fringe, where you will no doubt be inspired by her courage, humor and heart as she tries to tackle this relevant and super important topic.
WINNER of the 2017 HOLLYWOOD FRINGE SCHOLARSHIP AWARD☆
Who You Calling A Bitch?!?
Written, Directed and Performed by Sacha Elie
June 21st at 8pm
June 23 at 10:30pm
June 24 at 2:00pm
Scared Fools @1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Running time: 35 minutes
TICKETS: $12. Tickets available online or at the door.
Learn More at http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4550
Learn More Sacha Blog: http://www.sachaelie.com/sachas-blog/
Learn More at facebook.com/SachaElieNow/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf
In New York: