In my Dramatic Literature class my professor took our class to see the Broadway production of TopDog/Underdog and in my Arts in New York City class we discussed Carrie Mae Weems photographic artworks, including Ain’t Jokin. I had been a part of these experiences during the same time in the semester, which allowed me to see the similarities in both artworks regardless of the different art forms.
TopDog/UnderDog was directed by Kenny Leon and starred Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the two brothers Lincoln and Booth. Suzan-Lori Parks, the playwright, shares a dark comedy of 2 brothers who struggle to fight their economic hardships after depending on each other since their teenage years while discovering their familial history from each other. The play is centred around sibling dynamics and the effects of racism as we see the lack of opportunities Lincoln and Booth have as they try to make enough money with one source of income. In a 2012 interview Park’s states a larger theme of the play besides the competition between siblings is “who the world thinks you’re going to be, and how you struggle with that.” The brothers battle with societies expectations of remaining in poverty as Lincoln works an honest job while Booth is a petty thief that is chasing after the idea of becoming a pro con artist with 3-Card Monte. In the end, Booth kills Lincoln due to his built-up anger and resentment, after Lincoln wins in a game of 3-Card Monte Booth becomes upset because he lost his inheritance money and becomes jealous and insecure compared to Lincoln.
Carrie Mae Weem’s, Ain’t Jokin, is a photographic series that portrays 6 portraits in black and white black women, children, and men. The photos are titled after racist stereotypes, some titles are seen as “jokes” but compared to the individual’s faces in the portraits they seemed sad, confused, and exhausted by the racial categories and expectations they are placed in. Weems artwork reveals the normalized racism in American culture and portrays the harmful effects of the stereotypes and expectations have on individuals as they can alter a person’s perception of themselves and belief in what they can do.
I chose to create my project based on Parks and Weems artwork because they shared a similar purpose when creating their pieces, to represent the struggles African Americans face when trying to overcome societal expectations and racial stereotypes