Event Title

To Make You Feel Something: Analyzing Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon

Location

King Building 339

Document Type

Presentation

Start Date

4-28-2017 4:30 PM

End Date

4-28-2017 5:50 PM

Abstract

My research investigates the relationship between representations of blackness and audience reception, using the play An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as my case study. The play is an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s 1859 classic The Octoroon, which chronicles the lives of the residents of the Louisiana plantation, Terrebonne. Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation is controversial for its use of blackface, redface, and whiteface, along with the explicit racial language used by the characters, all of which is part of Jacobs-Jenkins’s intention to “make you [the audience] feel something.” I will use the concept of the “black body” as constructed by the theorist Harvey Young to interrogate the ways in which Jacobs-Jenkins uses his black characters (those played by black actors and those in blackface) to achieve his goal of making the audience “feel something.” Harvey Young claims that the “black body” comes into being when popular connotations of blackness are mapped across or internalized within black people. By understanding the myriad ways that an audience can follow Jacobs-Jenkins’s intentions for his audience (ranging from walking out of the theater to critically praising the play), I intend to highlight the ways that performances of blackness are judged and used to reify existing racial hierarchies.

Keywords:

theater, blackness, spectacle, affect and emotion

Notes

Session III, Panel 15 - Black | Authorship
Moderator: Gillian Johns, Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies

Major

Performance Studies (IM)

Award

Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship

Advisor(s)

Caroline Jackson Smith, Theater; Africana Studies
A.G. Miller, Religion

Project Mentor(s)

Matthew Rarey, Arts of Africa & the Black Atlantic

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Apr 28th, 4:30 PM Apr 28th, 5:50 PM

To Make You Feel Something: Analyzing Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon

King Building 339

My research investigates the relationship between representations of blackness and audience reception, using the play An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as my case study. The play is an adaptation of Dion Boucicault’s 1859 classic The Octoroon, which chronicles the lives of the residents of the Louisiana plantation, Terrebonne. Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation is controversial for its use of blackface, redface, and whiteface, along with the explicit racial language used by the characters, all of which is part of Jacobs-Jenkins’s intention to “make you [the audience] feel something.” I will use the concept of the “black body” as constructed by the theorist Harvey Young to interrogate the ways in which Jacobs-Jenkins uses his black characters (those played by black actors and those in blackface) to achieve his goal of making the audience “feel something.” Harvey Young claims that the “black body” comes into being when popular connotations of blackness are mapped across or internalized within black people. By understanding the myriad ways that an audience can follow Jacobs-Jenkins’s intentions for his audience (ranging from walking out of the theater to critically praising the play), I intend to highlight the ways that performances of blackness are judged and used to reify existing racial hierarchies.