Chase-ing the Spotlight: Social activism in the performing arts

Last week, WSU’s production of “Mockingbird” came to a close. The play centered on a young girl with autism named Caitlin, played by Camry Bagley.

The objective of the play and the director, WSU professor Tracy Callahan, was to bring a humanized view to people with autism. Upon viewing “Mockingbird,” it didn’t feel like that was the intention of the show. “Mockingbird” was much more about the characters and their stories than it was about autism.

Due to the well-crafted writing, the expert direction, and the extremely intelligent and thought-provoking acting done by Bagley, my attitude about autism spectrum disorders changed greatly by the end of the play. The play had done its job of entertaining and had accomplished its secondary objective of opening the viewer’s eyes to a new way of seeing those with autism.

Sometimes with emotionally charged topics, it seems that any allusion could alienate viewership and interrupt storytelling. This was one of the fears of the producers of the original “Star Trek” series when they aired one of the first-ever interracial kisses on scripted television (TV Guide says it is the first, but other websites disagree). A kiss was shown between Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, who is black, and Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, who is white. In a show that was about pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers in a distant future, they still had to worry about the unfortunate racial tension of their day.

It’s nice to think that we’re in a more racially tolerant world now, but just last year, the issue of interracial relationships on TV was brought up again, and in a very unpleasant way.

NPR’s Michel Martin sat down with Michael Burgi of Adweek to discuss a commercial that had recently aired on YouTube. The commercial was for Cheerios cereal and depicted a white mother, a black father and their biracial child. There was a large negative response to the video in the comments section that brought to light some of the racism this country still harbors. The reactions were so negative that Cheerios eventually pulled the ad from YouTube.

Burgi said that having anonymity on the Internet allows people to share their discontent with various issues without facing the public backlash over overt racism.

The mixed-race family did eventually return, and in a big way, with a Super Bowl TV spot. Partially due to a large amount of media attention, the conversations on sites have since changed to largely positive ones. Also, the anonymous “Internet trolls” are now receiving a large rebuttal from other Internet-goers for their racist comments.

A new wave of social activism also follows in the wake of gay rights. The corporate acceptance of these groups follows as opinion moves in favor of acceptance for those in the LGBT community.

The political and social atmosphere was very different when, nearly 20 years ago, Ellen DeGeneres’s character came out on “The Ellen Show.” According to ABC news advertisers like JCPenney and Chrysler refused to buy airtime for the episode. There was a lot of hatred directed at Ellen, with some even nicknaming her “Ellen Degenerate.” Now Ellen is a household name and is even more successful than she was before she came out.

The prevalence of hatred for minority groups that still exists is truly confusing to me, but there always seems to be more love and acceptance in the long run for these groups. We definitely have a long way to go before we can say true justice and equality have been given to all people, but we are most certainly headed in the right direction, and it’s good to be here to witness it.

Other stories you might be interested in:

Ogden Farmers Market open for summer
Musician Michael Franti visits WSU
Local cinema offers alternative to summer blockbusters

Posted by on April 10, 2014. Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Columns, Culture/Diversity, LGBT, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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