Broadway’s hit revival The Trip to Bountiful recently welcomed a new cast member with the addition of actress Adepero Oduye. In her Broadway debut, Oduye takes on the role of Thelma, originally played by Condola Rashad. For Oduye the play’s theme of home and finding a sense of belonging resonates deeply since the Brooklyn born and bred talent often finds her familial roots in Nigeria questioned by others.
“It’s interesting to see how people view me when I view myself as very Nigerian. My mother lives in Nigeria and the last time I was there they looked at me like where is she from. That’s weird because to me I am home in Nigeria,” she says. “I don’t have a personal identity conflict but I am aware of the different perceptions from the outside.”
Oduye’s next role in the film, Twelve Years a Slave addresses relevant issues in the African diaspora: slavery and racism. The historical drama tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Oduye hopes that the film will add a historical perspective to the nation’s current dialogue on issues of race post-Trayvon Martin. “What’s great about the conversations being had is that particularly with slavery it’s not something just for black people. This is American history and it’s something everybody should know and talk about,” she says. “With films like this it’s a great entry point for people to get a historical view of slavery through a personal narrative.” The film also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt and arrives in theaters October 18.
Broadening conversations and narratives is the mission of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) as evidenced by the organization’s successful Kickstarter campaign for an ambitious online expansion of its exhibitions and programs. The new museum website will feature video tours of all exhibitions, archives of artist talks and interviews, adult educational course materials including syllabus and audio recordings of courses, performance videos, live streaming of film festival movies and more.
According to James Bartlett, executive director of MoCADA, this new project is an important step in changing the concept of a museum and making it more accessible to a global audience. “A lot of older institutions are more about the art on the wall than the people coming to see it. They are ivory towers for the elite. So as long as elite patrons support the MoMA or Whitney [Museum of American Art] they are fine,” he says. “Younger institutions have to basically use contemporary technology and means of communication to better serve and execute our mission. For us to serve that mission we have to reach the people where they are and provide as many access points as possible.”
Another important conversation to be had whether online or offline is about medical care within inner cities. Helping to bring this issue to the forefront is Dr. Sampson Davis, who is best known as one of the Three Doctors, a group of friends from Newark, NJ who kept their high school pact to become doctors. In his new book, Living and Dying in Brick City: An E.R. Doctor Returns Home, Dr. Davis offers solutions for prevalent inner city health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, obesity and HIV/AIDS. However one of his most passionate causes is removing the stigma of mental illness, and in particular, depression. “I meet so many young people who are depressed. Unfortunately, among African-Americans and other minority groups, it's just not cool to admit you are depressed,” he notes. “I'm convinced that those bottled feelings of worthlessness and rage often erupt in acts of violence against oneself or others. We must begin these discussions. Parents, talk openly with your children about their feelings and what they are experiencing both inside and outside of the home. Having more media attention and celebrities speak out on the issues will also help destigmatize mental illness. There is power in sharing. There is power in realizing that you are not alone.”
As Dr. Davis notes the healing begins at home, and for descendants of the African diaspora like, Oduye that means all the way from Nigeria to Brooklyn.
The weekly column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.