We talk a lot about race-blind casting here at Parabsis, but it's almost universally within the context of shows in major theater centers like New York or Chicago. I'm in visiting my homeland right now, and went to see a “revisal” of the 1960's Broadway musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman... at the Dallas Theater Center with my parents my first night here. I assumed it was a traveling show, which it isn't, but neither is it quite "big-city theatre"—the awkward child actors were the clearest sign of that.
I don't usually write about theater here, and I certainly don't have the experience or background of Isaac or 99, so this is more about my personal reaction to the piece than anything else. But I was struck by the blasé radicalism of casting a black actor, Zakiya Young, as Lois Lane, not least because Dallas is where I first really understood racism as a real thing, witnessing the makeup of extended family Christmas parties where the only brown faces were the maids and bartenders.
At this performance, though, it was a different story. Not only is Lois the romantic lead, but she’s the object of desire for both male leads, both of whom are white. Furthermore, the main revision of the play was to place the (now-interracial) relationship between Lois and Clark at the heart of the story. The awesomeness of the Lois Lane casting decision was clearest to me at two moments in the play: when the Lex Luthor character (inexplicably named Max Mencken) sings her a song called “The Woman for the Man,” where he lists all the reasons Lois would make a perfect partner for a rich and powerful man like himself—she’s smart and beautiful, everyone wants her. And then there’s the final clinch between Superman and Lois, as they’re flying above the city.
I’m using the word “awesome” pretty seriously here to describe the effect of these moments on me as a viewer. Think for a moment, right now, about the last time you saw a mainstream black/white romantic narrative where the racial difference between the romantic leads wasn’t a source of drama or tragedy between the main characters. Now think of the last time you saw a mainstream narrative where a black woman was the intellectual hotshot that the rich and powerful white guys wanted, for her brains and her hot body. Where the oversexed Jezebel was the white lady.
You can’t think of one either?
The casting went without comment, in the reviews and the few conversations I witnessed following the show. I think her race is part of the popular reaction to the show, though—check out the comments section of the review in the Dallas Morning News, where TBeauclerck calls her performance “just saying lines and copping an attitude.” That sounds more like the Dallas I’ve resigned myself to expecting. But for one moment, watching an interracial kiss posited as not just a happy ending, but a cliché one, I let myself expect something new from Texas, which was just lovely.