In a world full of Magical Negros, only one in particular, Jamil Ellis, has been able to effectively capture the shame and sadness that comes with typecasting people of color. His one-man show, Magical Negro Speaks is Ellis’ way of telling the stories behind these lovably daft characters, the Coffeys, the Oda Mae Browns, the Bagger Vances everywhere.
To say the show was difficult to watch is no slight towards Ellis’ work; his performance was informative, entertaining, thought-provoking, all the marks on the “How to Do Theater” rubric. However in light of the recent string of violence and injustice affecting minorities and in particular, Black men, watching a room of white Americans visibly uncomfortable with the fact that race and racism were being discussed was not only upsetting but troubling.
When asked “What Is A Magical Negro?” the only audience members to raise their hands were African-American. When he asked for examples, although there are plenty, the crowd struggled. Not to say the lack of knowledge is anyway intentional on their part; the purpose of the night was to inform, and that it did. Ellis suffered a few elocution issues, but was still able to deliver his message loud and strong: Black people have a voice in film and media, but only when it serves to assist the majority.
Ellis alluded to the fact that he was almost offered the role of Don Cheadle’s Cash in the Family Man, a movie where he would serve two stereotypes at once: The Thug Who Happens to Be A Magical Negro. When he posed questions as to why these roles are so prominent in Hollywood, the audience response seemed puzzled. “What roles did he want?” said their faces, even causing Ellis to be almost taken aback when the house lights came on, and he sat staring almost awkwardly.
Magical Negro Speaks is relevant, and poignant. As we end a week that has caused much pain and resulted in much violence, let’s pray that society will stop waiting for a Magical Negro to come along and solve our problems for us. For the ability to foster dialogue with an audience completely unrelated, and slightly unenthusiastic about the work itself, Jamil Ellis must just be magic.
Performances of Magical Negro Speaks continue through August 24 at The White Box at 440 Studios. For more on FringeNYC shows, click here.
At the White Box at 440 Studios through August 24th.