The ‘Mountaintop’ and the affirmation of black humanity and consciousness: Play about MLK encapsulates important period in Afro-Brazilian History

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“I’ve been to the mountaintop” – Martin Luther King, Jr. – Lázaro Ramos and Taís Araújo in ‘O Topo da Montanha’ (Mountaintop)

Note from BW of Brazil: We first covered the play featuring actor Lázaro Ramos and his wife actress Taís Araújo, a fictional account of Martin Luther King’s last day on earth, back in October, about a week after the piece’s debut at the FAAP theater in São Paulo. This was before this writer had the opportunity to see the piece firsthand. Well, I  was able to view the play in all it’s glory a little over a week ago and I can confirm that the acting duo deserve all of the rave reviews they have received since the piece opened on October 9th! 

The energy between the two is simply magical! And while I have seen both Taís and Lázaro in a number of novelas and films over the past decade, I must say that the two are at the peak of their powers in this piece! After reading reviews of numerous bloggers since its debut, needless to say, I was prepared to be blown away when my chance finally came to see it. And the pair did not disappoint. There were moments in Taís’s performance in which I believed she absolutely stole the show from her acting husband; particularly in the scene in which her character dons MLK’s hat and jacket and goes into a personal dialogue for somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes. In a play that gave both actors space to totally master their characters with very little interruptions of applause, the house gave Araújo her due appraisal with a thunderous round of applause after she finished her lines in the scene. (Note: Video on this piece has been scarce, but to get an idea of what I saw in the American version, see actors Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett in the clip below. At about 1:27, see Bassett in the scene I described above featuring Araújo)

All I can say is that this piece was much more than only another play or film about the iconic MLK, but in a time in history in which Afro-Brazilians are steadily climbing their own ‘mountaintops’, the piece perhaps echoes the struggle as young black Brazilian males continue to be brutally massacred at extremely alarming rates by police forces. Another aspect of the piece brought out in our previous post on the piece was  written by a black woman who attended the piece back in October and expressed her dismay with the racial representation of the spectators at the event. But speaking with Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto, the writer of the first piece below, the audience on the night in which she attended was about 45% black by her estimate. On the night I attended, December 29th, I would estimate that black attendees made up about 35-40% of the audience. 

Montanha will be playing until December 20th so it’s likely that we will feature another review of this show as more and more people express their views of the show. But for now…

The Mountaintop and the affirmation of black humanity:  notes from the place of the black public

By Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto*

Far from being an art critic, I write only from a public place. But not only the public, a substantive lack in materiality. I speak as a member of the black public, a group of spectators commonly underestimated or even much dreamed of, but considered distanced from theaters, cinema, galleries, etc., for reasons that dialogue with the violent and sophisticated practices of socio-racial exclusion. I do this because I sincerely believe that, apart from specialized authors, works and critiques, the public is also essential for art to exist. And we, black audiences, not only exist, but also, as happened on the night of Saturday (10), we can present gifts in quantity and quality!

I am referring to the experience of watching the play O Topo a Montanha (The Mountaintop), an adaptation of the Katori Hall text, directed by Lázaro Ramos, produced and starred in by he and Taís Araújo that premiered at the Teatro Faap in São Paulo, on October 9 and that will be playing until December 20.

I and a couple of friends directed ourselves to this house located in the trendy Higienópolis neighborhood and thinking that we would be the infamous limited black quota among a majority of white spectators. Differently from the prediction and as we arrived early, we were able to delight ourselves in seeing the entrance of proceeding small groups of friends, families, couples and single men and women with dark skin, cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) and some guys with undisguised glee! People were enjoying seeing themselves occupying that place!

Anyway, it must be said that this was not the first time I saw it happen. In fact, I observe this phenomenon repeating itself with increasing frequency and intensity in recent years. I consider myself as proof of that. I dare to speculate whether the incorporation of racial quotas to the public debate is no longer serving to catalyze the expansion of the boundaries of black participation in other spaces … It could be, but that’s a topic for another text.

For now, it is better to continue on Topo da Montanha. Incidentally, the choice of this text is, in itself a great gift, especially for us, the black public. In times of marches in defense of the life of the black population in Brazil – which includes approaches and conflicts of a varied nature – recuperating the trajectory of Martin Luther King from the record of multiple dimensions of human life serves as a good opportunity to reflect on how we have directed our practices of resistance to what oppresses us. The recognition of confluence between fear and hope, selfishness and altruism, vanity and humility into such an emblematic subject as King is, in fact, one of several qualities of Katori Hall’s writing.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, she is a young black writer, 34, a graduate of reputed institutions like Columbia and Harvard and was the first black woman to be awarded the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play, in March 2010, for The Mountaintop, the original title in English. In addition to academic titles and awards, it’s really worth watching Katori’s trajectory for her creative capacity. She is currently working on her first film short film, Arkabutla, which talks about family relations and racism.

Other choices made for the spectacular also invite us to recognize and highlight a handful of black theater talents. The dramatic and scenic consultancy is signed by Ângelo Flávio. Actor, playwright and director, he is one of the exponents of black Brazilian theater, founder of Cia Teatral Abdias Nascimento (CAN or Abdias Nascimento Theater Company) at UFBA in 2002, and responsible for, among others, for the assembling of the piece A casa dos espectros (The house of the spectra) (2006), from the piece Funnyhouse of the Negro work (1964), of Adrienne Kennedy, another African-American writer.

The wardrobe is by Tereza Nabucco, an artist who for years has worked in the Rede Globo (TV) productions.

The lighting design, a key resource for guaranteeing the dramatic quality of the show, is under the care of experienced scenic illuminator Valmyr Ferreira. Aside from several works in the theater, Ferreira handled the illumination of the exposition Abdias Nascimentos 90 anos ‑ Memória Viva  (Abdias Nascimento – 90 years – Living Memory) at the National Archives in Rio de Janeiro, 2004. In turn, the singer, actor, pianist, composer and arranger Wladimir Pinheiro wrote the Original Score. Until quite recently, Wladimir appeared in the performance of the play Ataulfo ​​Alves – O Bom Crioulo (The Good Creole), directed by Luiz Antonio Pilar, in the Dulcina Theatre in Rio. Albeit could also circulate in other cities.

Added to all this, the interpretation of the Taís Araújo/Lázaro Ramos duo is capable of thrilling even more. In addition to sustaining the dynamism of the lines and the direction given at the touch of unusual fantastic narrative (you have to go to understand!) well, the actors are able to secure much sense even for the moments of silence.

Taís’s performance in particular is worthy of the entire standing ovation at the end. Seeing the maturity of her interpretation, it was impossible not to remember Viola Davis’s speech upon receiving the 2015 Emmy for Best Actress, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” (“A única coisa que separa mulheres de cor de qualquer outra pessoa é oportunidade. Você não pode vencer o Emmy por papeis que não existem”) And once again free of sabotage, Taís Araújo showed herself a giant onstage. Lázaro Ramos’s performance leaves nothing less. The extra toast is to realizing that the man is playing so well in so many areas!

The lights go out and there comes that sensation of wanting more! And so the theater establishes itself as something that makes a lot of sense for life, even if it means reorganizing the finances of the week or the month! That’s it, the theater is also our place, the black public!

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by Felipe da Silva Freitas**

On the Day of Black Consciousness (November 20th) I watched the show O Topo da Montanha (The Mountaintop), which describes the dialogue between the black leader Martin Luther King and a maid, the night before the murder of the American political activist.

Written by Katori Hall, a young black American writer and translated by Silvio Albuquerque, a black Brazilian diplomat who was Director of the Division of Social Themes of the Itamaraty, the piece is stars Taís Araújo and Lázaro Ramos and marks the meeting of talented professionals – blacks in their absolute majority – with different types of collaboration to combat racial discrimination in the country.

The spectacular is more than an act about the civil rights of blacks in the United States or on the challenges and possibilities of the American anti-racist struggle, though these points are evident throughout the text. The great debate proposed by the play is about love, fear, feelings, dreams and humanities, as already noted by journalist and activist of the Movimento Negro (black movement) Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto (previous text), in a text written at the release the montage.

From the affectionate way in which the cast receives the public before the start of the show to the wealth of photos and kisses and stories shared at the end, through the completely ecstatic way the cast interprets the text; everything points to a “different way of doing art”; to an engaged theater, which, concerned about the people, involve and sensitize about the challenge of giving birth to a better world. An accurate reflection of how racism put our notions of power, beauty and prestige into a hierarchy.

The performance of Taís Araújo, who is consecrated in the list of great Brazilian actresses, deserves much attention; a theater full of black people, happy with the possibility of a text and actors who also represent them adds to the political decision, in the heart of the São Paulo elite (the prestigious Teatro FAAP in São Paulo), realizes black art provoking aesthetic and political limits of monotone and violent branquitude (whiteness) that has for centuries hijacked the national culture. The piece is a good debate about the possibility of dialogue with the majorities and to question hegemonic power through art.

The Brazilian montage of O Topo da Montanha reminds us of how black people have been annihilated by eugenic discourses about national culture, and on the other hand, points out that “issues of black militancy” are universal themes because they are issues related to forms of recognition and representation of the human and referring to these contradictions present in each one of us: fear, hesitation, courage, criticism, arrogance.

At a time in which the violations of black bodies are the norm; that young black men are killed by the thousands and the black presence in public spaces continues to provoke brutal reactions of violence and discrimination it is revolutionary art that – through body and the expression of black people – states that love is, in itself, a radical and revolutionary act.

The Topo da Montanha questions the systematic process of dehumanization that black people are being submitted to and indicates that, speaking of racism is to speak of pain and cowardice; to speak of anti-racism is to speak of love, care, affection and passion.

These were, for me, the gifts of Lázaro and Taís on the Day of Black Consciousness.

* Ana Flavia holds a PhD and Master’s in History, is a journalist, an activist of the Movimento Negro (Black Movement), author of Imprensa negra no Brasil do século XIX  (Black Press in nineteenth-century Brazil) (Selo Negro, 2010)

** Felipe da Silva Freitas possesses a Master’s in Law from the Universidade de Brasília (University of Brasília) and is a research associate at the Research Group of Criminology at the Universidade Estadual de Feira e Santana (State University of Feira and Santana).

Source: Negro Belchior/Carta Capital, Brado Negro

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. This is fantastic, and definitely what is needed to raise blacks self-esteem. But there still should be an aggressive marketing campaign so that these can reach the black masses. It serves no purpose if it is only going to entertain pseudo-intellectual whites.

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