Lost in Translation | Letters | Chicago Reader

News & Politics » Letters

Lost in Translation

by

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment

Adam Langer's review of The Temple is just another illustration of the Reader's ignorance and disregard for African-American culture [April 19]. Instead of digging up someone who has a small inkling about black culture (I know, it's sooo hard to find black writers), you send a writer who seems to fancy himself truly in tune with the community but who proves time and time again that he's as clueless and arrogant as the typical mainstream media writer.

Langer seems to have a problem that so much of The Temple's dialogue is "fraught with meaning." That's the point. Is it that he's more comfortable with comical, lighthearted plays that don't challenge the usual black stereotypes? Or was it that he really couldn't follow a play that deals with intrinsic cultural issues and it was easier to declare it too full of metaphors? Whichever it is, let me explain some things that obviously didn't translate cross-culturally.

First of all, using the term "modern" to describe straightened, chemically processed hairstyles is incorrect. The braiding styles mentioned are just as "modern" and are much more "90s" than relaxers. The difference is that braids call for natural, unprocessed hair and relaxers mean that the hair will be changed from its natural state. It's a point that was frequently brought up, but Langer just didn't get it.

Another point missed was that Jasmine's partner Anile was African, not Jamaican. There is a difference. Her African heritage was an important point in the play--she symbolized the natural and the culturally true, which is why she left when the salon started offering hair straighteners. Granted, the actor's accents were confusing, but this was a fact that was discussed in the first act, not to mention the clues: she's in African gowns, she practices an African religion, Anile is an African name. Another cultural point that I guess was missed.

Thirdly, is Langer's bag of multicultural references so limited that he can't come up with another black playwright other than August Wilson? There is no comparison. It's like comparing Terry McMillan to Richard Wright. Gibson is a new playwright, dealing with modern, female-based issues. Wilson is a very accomplished playwright who deals with the past to tell the story of today's African-American issues. Just because they're both African-American does not make them interrelated.

Finally, it's obvious that Langer knows nothing about hair salons. Reading magazines, looking in the mirror, and gossiping is what generally goes on in hair salons, besides hairstyling. Langer's longing to see "more detail" further points to his lack of insight. There were scenes where the stylists were working on customers, but the process of black hair care is not quick and instantaneous--there was no way the actors could go through the process just to inform Langer.

The Temple was not a flawless or smooth play, but it dramatized some important issues that concern African-Americans that a lot of people just don't seem to be aware of, or want to be.

Kim Davis

East 87th

Add a comment