A confrontation over a frozen slushy drink was the catalyst for Jordan E. Cooper—the youngest Black playwright to have a Broadway show—to write his enlightening dramedy Ain’t No Mo’. “I had my own run-in with a police officer in Manhattan one time in a 7-Eleven. I was reaching to grab a Slurpee® right next to him. When I went to grab it, he grabbed his gun, like I was about to do something," Cooper shares with EBONY. "I just remember walking back to my dorm being in shock that I could have died over a red Slurpee®.”
Ignited by that event and his frustration and sadness over the overwhelming number of killings of unarmed Black men, Cooper sat down and began to write. “I'm someone with a dark sense of humor. I always want to find a way to laugh at the pain,” he says. “I was like, well, screw it. Let's just all go back to Africa.”
The result is a wickedly funny satire about race, place and perception of Black Americans. The setup? The U.S. government has arranged for all people of African descent to get on a plane—leaving from gate 1619—to head back to the motherland. Cooper plays Peaches, a dragilcious gate agent who delivers biting commentary of the situation and introduces us to a silent, essential character in the show: Miss Bag.
“This bag carries all the legacy, history, joy and pain, the triumph and the perseverance of the Black race in America,” Cooper exclaims. “Everything is in that bag: Beyonce, Jay Z and Bessie Smith to Malcolm X, Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker. This idea that everything that we've contributed to this country is so heavy that it cannot be moved is a really important factor of this play.”
Cooper challenges himself, and in turn, the audience, over what it means to be a Black American. “If we were to leave, what does that mean for everything that we contributed to this country,” he questions. “A lot of the music, the dances and art come from our strive to survive. I think to just throw that all away would mean that a lot of blood and bodies died in vain.”
With such heavy themes, the play can get a bit uncomfortable at times, and Cooper is totally comfortable with that. “It’s what theater is supposed to do, make you realize, ‘What is it that's comfortable? And why is that happening at this moment?'” Through a series of vignettes, Cooper examines the many ways Black Americans have been stereotyped, incarcerated and extinguished in America. “Nothing is fixed, there's still so much work to do. Throughout the course of the play, you see why we feel like we have to leave."
That doesn’t mean Cooper himself would go if given the opportunity. “I'm gonna stay with Miss Bag,” he declares. “If we could take our stuff, I would be on that plane. If we can take our culture, the music, dances and joy—the cookouts—I would be on that plane. But if it’s gotta be left behind, I gotta fight for it.”
Ain’t No Mo' officially opens on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre in New York City on December 1, 2022.