Editors’ Note: Colman Domingo, playwright, director and actor, was researching his musical (with co-author Patricia McGregor) about the iconic Nat King Cole when he realized the great singer of the post-War era had a depth that speaks to artists today. But how could a musician of the 1950s, who seemed to have embodied the word “grace,” be relevant to a time as angry as the one marked by the killing of George Floyd, the racism of Amy Cooper, the presidency of Donald Trump and the unrest of an entire nation? Domingo, who was Tony-nominated for his performance in Broadway’s The Scottsboro Boys and might be best known to TV audiences for his role as Victor Strand on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, provides his answer in this guest column for Deadline, in which he ties those elements of contemporary life to the groundbreaking singer of “Mona Lisa” and “Nature Boy.” He titles this piece There’s No Time For Easy Anymore. “It is time,” he writes, “to stand.”
There’s No Time For Easy Anymore
I create from a burning question that lives in my heart. Doesn’t matter the media. It has to be there as I have always used my work to shine a light on our humanity. In creating our musical Light’s Out: Nat King Cole, my comrade Patricia McGregor and I were delving deep into the subconscious of the legendary Nat King Cole. But ultimately we were uncovering our own personal truths as artists living in this world today. Black Artists. The frustrations that we hold deep in our souls and we – as Nat believed – were required to act with grace. Nat King Cole believed that grace was his most powerful weapon. I believed that too. I still do, to a point. But if anyone did deeper digging on Nat King Cole, they would find in an essay in Ebony Magazine in 1958, where, while discussing the demise of his television program The Nat King Cole Show, he famously stated that “Madison Avenue is Afraid of the Dark,” one will see that there was a quiet rage and his greatest weapon would be his words.
Patricia brought forward to one of our writing sessions a piece of writing that she knew would become a crescendo in our musical. It was a poem that she wrote on a flight back home. It was a dark expression of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. It floored me. It gutted me. It was her response to the death of black men and women across this nation. It was her response as a mother and her fear for her brown son. That was part of our intention to hold the mirror up to America in deconstructing an American Icon, that let you know that, yes, this rage lived even in the heart of Nat King Cole because of injustice, and that fury is justified. Justified by the origins of this country that has always sought to exploit black and brown people.
None of this is a surprise to me. It constantly feels like it is a surprise to my lighter comrades. They now know with the force of a hurricane that it is as plain as day. It has always been in plain sight and NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO STAY SILENT. It affects all of our humanity. I am furious, I am sad, I am awestruck. I awoke with tears in my eyes for three days, my soul aches. I am holding everyone who is trying to stay silent in this fight accountable. There is a line in our musical that became a refrain but it is even more important to me now. One of my co-creators sent it to me this morning and the words have never rang more true: “There is no time for easy anymore.”
As I sit here, I listen to a news account saying that an act from 1807 is being invoked. Military force on our own country. My eyes well as I write this, as I understood that the Insurrection Act was to suppress civil disorder from the insurrection of slaves. Slaves. Our President of the United States just reached back to 1807. I guess that is the America that he has so lovingly dreamed of. Back when we were great.
It isn’t easy to live in this brown body. I am talking to all my friends and colleagues to say, yes, this is a problem and it has always been here. I have never had the privilege to think otherwise. This world has repeatedly shown me. You might think that when one is a public person that it cancels out the fear. My black friends know better. Everyone is overdue to stand up for what is right. Use your voices to say loudly that Black Lives Matter. No one who loves me can sit this one out. The price will be heavy for our future if we do. To my casts, crews, producers, production companies, et al…you can’t look away anymore. I won’t let you.
Being black IS political. It is not helpful to hear from any one person that they don’t see race. That blind belief highlights the fact that you never needed to be aware. It denies the very struggle for equality. Open your eyes and see race. See it every single time. I believe in every way that Amy Cooper truly believed that she wasn’t racist. But in that moment when she was being challenged, she knew the system that she lived in, the privilege that she had to weaponize her white womanhood to the possible harm or death of that brown man. Our society and upbringing has left us scarred and fucked up by our forefathers who viewed brown bodies as replaceable machinery.
I am coming at you with as much love and grace that I can muster, but the fires that are burning in the streets are the fires that have been burning in the hearts of all of your fellow citizens who have demanded to be treated fairly by our system for centuries. This is 2020 and the time is now. Stand with all of us. Taking a knee didn’t work. It is time to stand.
The death of George Floyd and the tale of Amy Cooper have ignited the flames that are burning the very foundation of our America. It’s always been here, we just have cell phones to capture these injustices. And, unlike all the proxy wars in which we have engaged as a nation throughout history, we can not ignore this, for this war is in our home.
It is not the time to disassociate and think that it is different for you, you can’t understand why it’s happening. Do not compartmentalize the pain and call it their struggle. It is our struggle. There is no time for easy anymore.
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