In keeping with tradition, Dakotah Jennifer, the playwright behind Black Anthology’s new production, will not reveal this year’s plot. But she will disclose its setting — an alternative universe.
“Masquerade,” Black Anthology’s 31st annual production, will question past and present ideas of utopia through the lens of Afrofuturism — a genre that fuses black culture with science fiction to create a universe where black identity is both central and celebrated. Examples range from the 1950s jazz of Sun Ra to the 1979 novel “Kindred” by Octavia Butler to the 2018 hit movie “Black Panther.”
“Afrofuturism is a genre that imagines better worlds — ones in which black people have advanced past the oppression we face, worlds in which we are liberated,” said Jennifer, a Danforth Scholar and sophomore who is studying English in Arts & Sciences. “It was a challenge for me to write with such an open concept because my own work is based in realism. For this story, I tried to let my imagination create something from nothing.”
“Masquerade” is Jennifer’s first full-length play, but she is no novice to writing. As a third-grader in Baltimore, Jennifer composed acrostics, simple poems that helped her express feelings she could not verbalize. Today, she has published two chapbooks of poetry and essays in Student Life. Her current work, from an op-ed about white students singing along to the N-word at WILD to the poem “Smother,” about the killing of Eric Garner, possesses the clarity and cadence of conversation. She hopes “Masquerade” does as well.
“As a black person in America, I know there are a lot of people who won’t want to listen to me,” Jennifer said. “But I will always try to tell stories in a way that’s approachable and honest.”
Black Anthology is produced by junior Sophia Kamanzi with original costume designs from sophomore Sparkle Whitaker.
Audience members are invited to attend pre-show discussions at 6:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, with Sean Joe, the Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at the Brown School, and 6:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, with Darrell Hudson, associate professor of public health at the Brown School.
Black Anthology will be collecting winter items such as gloves and hats for its community partner Provident STL, which hosts after-school programs for local students.