‘When Black Bodies are on the Stage, Black Perspectives Must be Reflected.’ Why Tonya Pinkins Left ‘Mother Courage.’

Tonya Pinkins Getty Images

Tony Award-winning actress and stage veteran Tonya Pinkins recently released a statement that resonated with many black creatives. Pinkins, who was cast in the title role of Caroline in the Classic Stage Company’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, departed the project, just days before opening night.

Pinkins released a statement about her seemingly abrupt decision to leave Mother Courage, which was set to open on January 7, 2016. She relayed feeling that her perspective as both a creative and a black woman was being devalued.

The year 2015, saw the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackGirlsMatter, both movements helmed by powerful, fearless Black women. In 2016 I’m starting #BlackPerspectivesMatter.

Twice this year (but too many times in my career) my perspective as a Black woman was dismissed in favor of portraying the Black woman, through the filter of the White gaze. Regrettably, I must exit Classic Stage Company’s Mother Courage.

When Black bodies are on the stage, Black perspectives must be reflected. This is not simply a matter of “artistic interpretation”; race and sex play a pivotal role in determining who holds the power to shape representation. A Black female should have a say in the presentation of a Black female on stage.

Pinkins also cited Classic Stage Company’s decision to produce an edited version of the play, which cut the showtime by an hour and essentially eliminated her character’s story, as the impetus for her departure, as well as friction with the show’s crew.

Her story and her statement serve as a testament to the fact that representation is complicated and the mere presence of black bodies isn’t enough.