Why We Need Black Antiheroes, with Antoinette Nwandu

Playwright Antoinette Nwandu on writing new kinds of black characters and her upcoming film with Spike Lee.

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Antoinette Nwandu
Playwright Antoinette Nwandu

In this episode of The Scene, we welcome playwright Antoinette Nwandu. Nwandu’s plays include Pass Over, Breach: a manifesto on race in america through the eyes of a black girl recovering from self-hate, Flat Sam and others. Her work has been supported or produced by the Sundance Theater Lab, The Cherry Lane Mentor Project (under Katori Hall), The Kennedy Center, The Flea, Naked Angels, Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens, among others, and her awards include the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, The Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award, The Negro Ensemble Company’s Douglas Turner Ward Prize and a Literary Fellowship at the O’Neill Conference. Her play Pass Over, produced at Steppenwolf last summer, started a national conversation on racial bias in the theater community, and it was also recently recorded and turned into a film by Spike Lee, to be released on Amazon this April.

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Her newest production is now Breach, at Victory Gardens in Chicago until March 11. Breach tells the story of Margaret, who per Victory Gardens’ description “uproots her life, including her dead-end job and fizzling relationship, after finding out that she is unexpectedly expecting…Breach is a smart comedy about friendship, motherhood, and family, and tackles the mother of all challenges: learning to love yourself.” In our conversation today, Nwandu describes her interest in writing a new kind black protagonist–one who can be “a mess” in the way many of our culture’s popular white antiheroes have been. We talk about self-perception in the African American community and how people can learn to accept and embrace their authentic selves. I also get an update on how the film of Pass Over has been progressing and hear how Steppenwolf and Spike Lee staged a rare, one-night-only return of her play for black audiences from across Chicago.

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