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This playwright rewrites Black voices and perspectives into popular culture

Marcia Johnson, a Jamaica-born actor, and playwright, was disappointed when she watched an episode of The Crown where not even one line of dialogue was given to a Black character—even though it was set in Kenya.

As an outlet for her frustration about the erasure of African voices and identities that happens so often in mainstream media, she decided to rewrite the episode as a theatre piece which is being staged in two locations this summer.

Johnson had promised herself that every play she produced would have a character who looked like her, so when she started brainstorming ideas for the storyline, she asked herself, “What if a Black woman was asked to cook for the princess and what if she was bitter with the Crown?”

The result is Serving Elizabeth, which is a play within a play. It depicts the royal visit to Kenya from the perspective of a restaurant owner named Mercy, who is approached by the then Princess Elizabeth’s envoy. This interpretation of the visit unfolds alongside the story of a contemporary film student who is interning on a TV series about Queen Elizabeth.

Besides being entertaining, the play challenges the audience to think critically about the way in which mainstream popular culture influences how history is understood. Johnson notes that people who watch her play comment that even though they’ve watched shows in which certain identities are silenced, the thought “never occurred” to them explicitly. “I could have written an op-ed or an angry letter to the producers,” Johnson says, but “this was the best way for me to vent that frustration. The fact that it’s landing like this, that’s the success.”

Source Image: Barbara Zimonick

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