Christina Gardner, The Black Bear – From the Golden Age of Hollywood and Broadway up through the Modern Era, people of color have been the at the cornerstone storytelling. The 2016-2017 Awards season for cinematic and theatrical arts was engulfed by the talents of artists of color.
The recent successes of African Americans on the screen and on the stage have proven to be a sort of guiding light for some young artists of color. From the Academy Awards to the Tony Awards, aspiring ameteur and beginning actors, writers and directors alike have sat looking at the shows via their television screens and perhaps said to themselves, ‘that can be me.’
Darian Bengston, a junior at Missouri State University pursuing a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Acting, says the first time he knew he wanted to pursue acting as a career was at the age of 16 when he saw a production of the musical Pippin in Kansas City. One of the leads in the show was Wallace Smith, a black actor. Bengston said it was not until this moment where he saw himself reflected in theater.
“I immediately felt this sense of purpose,” Bengston said. “I was wanted to be able to provide kids like me and kids not like me who have no representation. I wanted to be able to provide this for them, and let them know that they’re worth more.”
One thing that stuck out most from Smith’s performance to Bengston was the fact that Smith’s role in Pippin was not race specific. Bengston explained that sometimes actors of color can get pigeonholed into certain roles and that opportunities to stray from this sorts of roles are often limited.
Bengston studied theatre in London, England in the fall of 2016. He explained that in London actors of color are often cast in roles that were originally played by white actors, like that of former British monarchs.
In some parallel ways, the roles of British monarchs being played by actors of color is very similar to a theatrical sensation that has been sweeping the nation for roughly the past year; Hamilton, the Musical.
This show about the life and legacy of the unlikely founding father of the United States told through Hip Hop and R&B and features an incredibly diverse cast, won several Tony awards and has gained notoriety from everyone from pop stars to politicians.
Bengston said that Hamilton left actors of color saying, “This is going to be my thing.”
While unconventional stories about men on United States currency took over Broadway, on the bigscreen, Moonlight, a critically acclaimed, coming-to-self story about a black man during three formative stages of his life won both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for best picture.
Bengston says that Moonlight’s achievements, especially those from the directorial standpoint, made it seem possible for a black film, both its cast and crew, to gain its rightfully owed recognition.
Black filmmakers who spend a lot their time behind the camera, like those who helped create Moonlight, made a lot of staples in the industry during the past year as well. Brooke Fields, a Digital Film Production student at Missouri State University, is wanted to make her own staples in the film industry.
Fields says that throughout her life and in her pursuit of her love of movies, she’s come across an number of directors, writers and producers who have given her inspiration. Gina Prince-Bythewood, the creator of Love and Basketball, and Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s Inscure, are two of these people.
Like Prince-Bythewood and Rae, Fields says she wants to create film that feature black stories that are not solely fixated on race and feature multidimensional characters.
“I’m interested in making art for the sake of art, but having it feature African Americans, women, and other minority groups,” Fields said. “We don’t think twice when we see a movie with an all white cast, but we see a movie with an all black cast and it’s a black movie.”
Fields says she wants to help reshape this trend.
Both Bengston and Fields are in the process of working on projects. Fields is in the process of shooting a pilot for a series about a black female art student navigating college life. Bengston will starring a student directed short film.