'We will never move forward if we don't discuss race' (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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American actor Colman Domingo stars in The Scottsboro Boys. He talks to Amie Mulderrig
4:30pm Thursday 26th September 2013 in News
"Nine times out of ten, I’ll be standing outside waiting to hail a New York cab and if someone rocks up later, someone who is not of colour, standing further down, you can be guaranteed the cab will stop there first.
“I can be with my peers who are doctors or accountants, and again the same thing will happen.
“And it makes me feel awful. It’s a shame, because I’ve actually become comfortable with that idea. If there’s ever a Caucasian person in our group, we’ll always say – hey, well you know it’s your turn to get the cab.
“It’s something we all know and laugh about. Why? Because that’s the only way we can try and deal with it.
“Indirectly or directly I have faced discrimination. I absolutely have. As an African American man on a daily basis.“
When Colman Domingo relays this story, he punctuates it with a throaty laugh, but there’s a resigned tone to his voice.
I’m speaking with the 43-year-old Philadelphia-born actor in between rehearsals for his performance as Mr Bones in the Tony award nominated and Broadway hit The Scottsboro Boys.
Set to come to London’s Young Vic stage, the musical is based on the true story of nine black youths wrongly accused of rape in 1930s Alabama.
“It’s a play that’s still incredibly relevant today,“ says the actor who has starred in Law and Order and Nash Bridges on TV. “A lot of people say that about plays they are in, but I truly believe this to be the case. It’s so important.
“If we don’t discuss race, then we will never move things forward. Race can’t just be discussed by people of colour, people need to talk about their fears.
“Everyone has been conditioned, by parents, grandparents, the media, to harbour fear of colour or adopt stereotypes. People will assume many things about me. Am I carrying a gun? Am I a rap star?
“I think a majority of people aren’t racist in their heart, but if you think about it, American Civil Rights wasn’t that long ago. My parents dealt with that. I’m a generation away from when things were horrific for people of colour.
“And although we’ve installed a black president in America, I still see this discrimination on the street. It’s that old adage, the more things change the more things stay the same.
“Look at the Trayvon Martin case. People will say that it’s not about race, but it was. It’s a sad day when an unarmed teenager, walking through a neighbourhood, can strike fear in the hearts of people, so much so, he ends up shot dead.
This isn’t the first time Colman has appeared in The Scottsboro Boys. Indeed, he’s been a part of the production since 2010, when it made its debut at The Vineyard Theatre, off-Broadway, New York.
He was also present later that year when protestors gathered outside the Lyceum Theatre, New York, to rally against the portrayal of minstrels within the show, claiming it was racist – an opinion he argues was voiced by people who had failed to see the play.
Nonetheless, despite scoring other film and theatre roles, he says it’s a part that he’s happy to continue performing, and describes the company as one big happy family.
What is new for Colman however is his visit to London.
It’s his first time here and in his words: “He’s loving it,“ – particularly the pickle, which he’s hoping to take a suitcase home of.
It’s also the first time The Scottsboro Boys has come to London too, fitting perhaps as the production will coincide with Black History month.
“Do you know I didn’t know that?!“ gasps Colman, taken aback.
“But now that I do, it’s great to think the play, which looks back on our history, coincides with remembering our heritage.
“The Scottsboro Boys is a daring, thrilling piece that looks at race. If it can get people talking, that’s even better.“
The Scottsboro Boys is at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo, SE1, from October 18 until November 23. Details: youngvic.org, 020 7922 2922