Orwell said “He who controls the Present controls the Past, and he who controls the Past controls the Future.” In other words you can never let some jerks who hate you write your history, because that history will determine who your kids will think they can be. (Orwell didn’t say that last part. But I bet he thought it.)
First off – I know The Great Khan is an unusual play. Sure, as a examination of racial oppression in the United States it may not be uncommon, and as a show about Black teens trying to define themselves in a nation that has already defined them as potential criminals at best and runaway slaves at worst it’s not unique. As a play about who gets to write history it’s entering a less trodden area, and as seriously comedic social commentary it’s getting rare.
And then Genghis Khan shows up. Seriously. Genghis Khan.
As the father of a Black teen I’ve had to struggle with how and when to give my son “The Talk.” Not the talk about the birds and the bees, but the talk every Black parent has to give: the one about how much this country fears and despises them. It’s heartbreaking to see that light of innocence dim in their eyes, but it’s that talk that can save their lives. Black parents cannot protect their children from a nation poised to strike them down at any moment, but we do what we can to help them not become twisted into a shape designed by those who cannot, will not see the fullness of their beauty. We – all of us – are more than this society can see, but for Black kids how others stereotype them is life-or-death.
But then, you may wonder… comedy? If this is such a serious subject what’s with the funny? My wife always says comedy is a way to get people to relax, to see their shared humanity, to let their guard down – and that’s when you can crack their heads open, and stick some hard truths in there. It’s a disgusting mental image, but you get the point. The world needs to change, and we need to use all the tools we can to make this a better, fairer, more just world for our children. We all use different tools to achieve this revolutionary change, and mine is comedy.
So, three teens, two Black, one Asian American – one trying to hide from a frightening world, one wanting to be a kid just a little bit longer, one dealing with parental expectations – all of whom have to decide: will they swim against the tide, fight to define themselves, or will they float with the current of a culture that wants them to drown?
And grown-ups, struggling against stereotypes of their own – of them and by them – and acting like they know what they are have all the answers, because that’s what all grown-ups are supposed to do. But do they? Do any of us?
And then Genghis Khan shows up.
Michael Gene Sullivan
Wera V. W.
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