Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 10, 2019

Black is the New White, by Nakkiah Lui

Black is the New White is the title of a smash-hit play which premiered in 2017, and after sell-out performances by the Sydney Theatre Company in 2018, is coming to Melbourne later this year.  The playwright is Nakkiah Lui who will be familiar to viewers of Screen Time and her six-part series Kiki and Kitty on the ABC comedy channel: she is a Gamileroi and Torres Strait Islander woman.  The play won the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting in the 2018 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and Allen and Unwin have this year published it in paperback form.

So how to review a play that I haven’t yet seen performed?  I can tell you that I loved reading it; it’s a provocative, clever and witty play that playfully navigates cross-cultural issues among middle-class successful Indigenous people.  Via the comic setting of a Family Christmas and its classic moments of conflict, the play interrogates assumptions about class, race, success, and privilege in a delicious romcom with elements of slapstick punctuating pause-and-make-you-think moments.

Here’s a promo that will serve as a synopsis:

And here’s a sample of the laugh-out-loud dialogue between Francis and Charlotte who are hoping for the right moment to break it to their families that they are engaged:

Francis: ‘Artisanal bread shop’ is the worst phrase I’ve ever heard any human being say.’

Charlotte: But imagine not having to bring your work home with you.

Francis: I think you’re being a bit classist and romanticising the poor and the working class.

Charlotte: Okay, I am not being classist or romanticising the poor or the working class.

Francis: You’re not?

Charlotte: Okay, well, first of all, aren’t you being classist assuming it’s only poor or working-class people who work in shops? Maybe there are rich people working in shops? Also, as a Black woman /

Francis: / Here we go.

Charlotte: As a Black woman, a White man, such as yourself, should not be discrediting the place of privilege from which you make your judgement, Francis.  Which, may I point out, is the Whitest name possible, Francis.

Francis: Well, look, it’s not my fault that my name is Francis.  It’s not my fault I was born White /

Charlotte: / Here we go again.

Francis: More wine?

Francis kisses Charlotte to shut her up.

Charlotte: Did you kiss me to shut me up?

Francis: Yes. See, us White people have all the solutions. (p.11-13)

Finally I refer you to this enticing review at The Guardian.

If like me you’re not in the habit of reading playscripts (except maybe for Shakespeare), do yourself a favour and try this one, especially if you’re not in a position to see the play.

Author: Nakkiah Lui
Title: Black is the New White
Publisher: Alen and Unwin, 2019, 192 pages
ISBN: 9781760527341
Source: Kingston Library Service

 

 

 


Responses

  1. […] Black is the New White, see my ANZ LitLovers review […]

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  2. Hah! That sounds like fun! (And sharply funny, too.)

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    • Indeed, I’m just waiting for my credit card to recover after New Zealand and then I’m booking my tickets for the Melbourne performance!

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  3. Hello Book Enthusiasts,

    I recently viewed a profile of the playwright Nakkiah Lui on the show, One Plus One. She discussed her acting roles and her entryway into playwriting. Her drama, Black is the New White, forges into critical issues at work within a middle-class Aboriginal family. What’s interesting about the play is that Lui uses a contemporary urban setting to work against stereotypical images and perceptions of aborigines.

    Indigeneity is a living experience that Lui explores with cultural nuances, humor, and sociopolitical urgency. As you state in your review Lisa, the play inscribes “pause-and-make-you-think moments”.

    In reading the dialogue between the characters, I’m curious to know if Lui provides a glossary of cultural references or critical notes, if warranted for readers who may have little or no knowledge of the history, culture, and experiences of black indigenous people of Australia. I’m adding Black is the New White to my reading list.

    Sonia

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    • Hi Sonia, this is the link for others that want to the One Plus one interview: https://www.abc.net.au/news/programs/one-plus-one/2019-03-21/one-plus-one:-nakkiah-lui/10926842
      What I’m finding interesting in more recent Indigenous publications (in whatever form, drama, literature etc) is that middle-class Indigenous Australians are differentiating themselves from the dominant narrative of chronic disadvantage. They are not denying the past, or the injustices or the problems, but they do seem to be saying that there’s more than one kind of story to be told.
      There is a brief introduction to this book, but I think it’s written for a domestic audience on the assumption that most people, Australians anyway, know a bit about things. (They should do, it’s been taught in schools for years, and there’s been other media, docos and films such as the award winning Rabbit Proof Fence).

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