Syrupy sweetness can't mask the pain of racism.
Soulistic Playhouse's production of "Re/membering Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show" brings the marketing icon to life as she and her 13 "daughters," varying from Dorothy Dandridge to Anita Hill, tear apart the stereotypes associated with black women.
Director Tierra King, co-founder of Soulistic Playhouse, said that she fell in love with the play as soon as she read it.
"I initially just wanted to do the show, but then when we were discussing the upcoming season, we saw we could kill two birds with one stone," she said. "The show runs in February and March, so we can cover Black History Month and Women's History Month at the same time."
All the women in the show are based on women in history or literature. The characters
include Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Pecola Breedlove, a character from Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye."
"All these characters are stereotypes about this kind of black woman and that kind of black woman," King said. "But first and foremost, they're women. This is their story."
The Aunt Jemima stereotype started in the late 1880s, when a man looking to sell a new kind of pancake flour needed a living representative. According to the African-American Registry, a vaudeville performance featured a song called "Aunt Jemima" and a woman in an apron and bandana.
Like other caricatures used to push products, Aunt Jemima represented an idealized image of the other and an implication that "normal" consumers were white.
"Re/membering Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show" is the latest project of Soulistic Playhouse, formed in December 2002 by King and Stephenetta Harmon. It's a nonprofit theater company that seeks to give emerging artists a chance to participate in a variety of artistic endeavors.
"Re/membering Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show" is the kind of show Soulistic Playhouse was born to produce. It's interesting and funny but serious at the same time.
"The underlying message comes right across," King said. "The audience doesn't have to think about what happens."
And yes, it's a menstrual show. The play on words comes from the minstrel shows that helped spread negative black stereotypes through the 19th and 20th centuries, and the menstruation aspect comes from the cycle of Aunt Jemima's life.
The production shows the strengths of these women and aims to blur the lines that are still drawn by the color of a woman's skin.