Letter to the Editor: She Looks Like Me

Last year I made a Hallmark-style Christmas short film called “Mistletonies.” This may have been some of the whitest crap I’ve ever done, except for that one time in High School when I was mother Abyss in the Sound of Music. But hear me out: “Mistletonies” is a work of black art. This is because “Mistletonies” was starred, co-written, and produced by me, Emily Cacho, a black woman.

We’ll get back to the “Mistletonies” situation in a little while, but for now, here is my inner monologue about what my black experience has been like.

 As August Wilson once stated “…it is difficult to disassociate my concerns with theatre from the concerns of my life as a black man, and it is difficult to disassociate one part of my life from another. I have strived to live it all seamless— art and life together, inseparable and indistinguishable.”

Black theatre should be produced by black artists only. By doing this, it can help educate, increase opportunity and diversity within the field, and preserve black culture. I find it equally important to define what black theatre is to me. Black Theatre is created by Black Artists for the benefit and enjoyment of Black people only.

 Here’s the thing: I feel disconnected from my black culture. This is for several reasons, but the two big ones are that one: I’ve been raised by my mom who is white for my whole life and I have never interacted with my dad’s side of the family, who obviously are black.

And two: I’ve also been raised in mostly white communities. To paint you a picture, I’m convinced that I am one of only 10 black people in the entire state of Wyoming.

What I am trying to say it that even though I love my mother very much and I had a pretty good childhood, whenever I had an issue that revolved around race, I did not have a black community to turn to.

For example, when I was in second grade my teacher Mrs. English would target me, giving me worse grades than the other students even though I did the same quality of work. She would also be mean and call me lazy and stupid. I later found out from my mother that this was because I was black.

Another example is when the Black Lives Matter movement was starting, I would hear about all these teenage black boys getting shot by the police; their only crime being the color of their skin. Seeing this all over the news and social media, I feared for my life and for my brother’s.

One day in my senior year of high school, I got pulled over by the local police with my brother in the car. I had just picked him up from track practice and we were going home to eat pudding cups and fight over whether we should watch the “Flash” or “Say Yes to the Dress.”

When the cop got out of his car and started walking over to me I was terrified, but I tried to put on a brave face for Kyle and calmly asked him to get my driver’s license out of my backpack. The look of fear on my brother’s face is something that I cannot describe, and I still remember his shaking hand when he gave me my license.

Fortunately, all we got was a warning for turning into the far right lane. We were relieved, but we cried silently the whole way home because we knew that it could have ended much, much worse than it did. So what does this have to do with theatre?

Well, as previously stated by August Wilson, art and life are indistinguishable. Theatre is about storytelling and I hope that telling stories like these can create a sense of community not just with my fellow black artists, but with the theatre community as a whole. 

With this being said, I am still seeking to create connections with the black theatre community, because growing up, how I did this is something that I am lacking. One of the things that I did to help me connect with black culture, as well as educate myself, was reading plays by black playwrights.

The saddest part about this is that I had to do this research all myself–with the exception of reading some August Wilson, and Suzan-Lori Parks in my freshman script analysis class. SHOUT OUT to Dr. Scott C. Knowles Ph.D.

Reading these plays has given me a sense of community because I know that these stories are about people who look like me. It is a great form of catharsis. “Fences” taught me that race is a barrier to achieving the “American Dream.”

A Raisin in the Sun” taught me the same, but it also taught me the importance of discourse through different ways of expressing “blackness.” Also, how to overcome the challenges of race in an inherently racist world.

Through all my independent study of black theatre, the most common theme that I found was the importance of diversity in this field. I crave connection and understanding, and I can achieve part of this through content created by black theatre artists, which is why it has become my goal to become this very artist that can create black art.

I have a lot of factors working against me in this industry.

I am black, I am a woman, and I am not a size 2.

There are not very many people who look like me on the stage or screen.

When I was younger I had Raven from “That’s so Raven” and Mercedes from “Glee,” but that was pretty much it. What I’ve learned from my experiences is that no one is going to make the art that I want for me. I’m going to have to do it myself.

Honestly no one SHOULD make it for me. The only person who can tell my story in an authentic way is me, which is why I made Mistletonies.

It is definitely not the best thing that you will ever see, in fact it may be one of the worst if I’m honest, nor does it look like what black art “should” look like, with strapping black men on screen fighting the power. However, I made it and cast myself as the romantic lead.

In popular media today you do not see people who look like me cast as the romantic lead ever. I cannot think of one plus-sized black woman who has starred on screen or stage as a romantic lead. As narcissistic as it sounds, casting myself was a revolutionary act.

The rest of the film was filled with white people because, honestly, that’s what I had to work with, but at least it is a start, right? Again, “Mistletonies” is not great, but it is representation. It is also MY story, even if it is not the exact events of my life.

I remember saying to my best friend Amanda, who directed and co-wrote “Mistletonies” with me, that one of the things that I was really excited and proud of about our film was that if a little black girl somewhere and somehow came across it, then she could say “Hey, she looks like me.” 

 

Letter by: Emily Cacho
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

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