The play that made white people leave
Confessions of a Blacklisted Woman was one of the highlights of this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. The powerful play was created by actress, singer, composer and scriptwriter Zimkitha Kumbaca, who you might know for her role as Nontle Sanqu in e.tv’s Matatiele.
Upon arrival at the Graeme College theatre, a lavishly dressed black woman with a weave greets the audience warmly and welcomes them into her place of pleasure.
She’s the madam, and the stage is set up like a gentlemen’s club with the all-black, all-female cast dressed like human dolls, there to provide all “gentlemen” with the joys of the flesh. With their blonde wigs and red latex suits, they represent what has been historically seen as the ideal woman: white, sexy and with one purpose – to satisfy men.
By the time the show ended, all the white people in the theatre had left. As it progresses from its opening scene, you see the dolls begin to rebel.
At the back of the stage is a black woman with natural hair, “the essence of blackness”, called Mama. She is dismissed by the madam as a “monkey”. She blows powder on the dolls, opening their eyes to the way they’ve been moulded to suit the white, sexist ideal. They start to question their blonde wigs and why the madam refers to black people as “the other”. They fling off their wigs to reveal their own natural hair, they kick off their heels and start speaking Sesotho instead of English.
The dialogue must have been too much for some people to handle. Slowly, ever more white people got up and headed for the door. With each mention of a monkey or hating blackness, skin bleaching, or being a yellow bone, more white peeps (mostly in an older audience) got up, shook their heads at the stage and left.
As they left, members of the cast shouted at them: “You’d better sit down and listen to what we have to say!”
At the end of the play, the madam herself realises her blackness. She turns on the remaining black audience, screaming at us “gentlemen” for what we have forced her to become. Homegirl literally brings the show to an end by kicking everybody out of the theatre. “Get out, get out!” she screams as we leave. I was applauding her and the cast when I noticed some other poor fool getting shouted at by the madam for doing so. I quickly stopped.
All us black people congregated outside afterwards, shaken by what we’d just seen. I have not been more uncomfortable and engaged in my life, and I loved it.
“To have applause at the end would be inappropriate. This was not a celebration. It would be a lie to applaud after such an honest session,” Kumbaca told City Press a day later.
“The show is honest and the audience reacted in an honest way. Those who weren’t having any of it, left. I do appreciate those who stayed, though. Very brave.”
She said she was proud of her cast and how they seemed to elevate their performance as each person left.
HONEST The cast of Confessions of a Blacklisted Woman