In an interview with Park Square Theatre, feature writer Matt DiCintio asked Christina Ham, the playwright of Nina Simone: Four Women, “Many audience members, especially younger generations, may not be aware of the role musicians like Simone played in the Civil Rights Movement. Why do you feel it’s important that we don’t forget them?”
As part of her reply, Christina stated, “Until 1970, Ms. Simone’s music was such a substantial part of the movement, but after this she was basically pushed into relative obscurity. Books on the Civil Rights Movement don’t even index her or discuss how critical she was to the movement.”
In conversations with audience members who had seen Nina Simone for the first time either last or this season, I often found some to have come expecting lighter fare–namely, a replica of a nightclub act of favorite standards. Instead, they were surprised by the intensity of a production that digs deep into themes of racism, colorism, feminism and activism. The play ultimately leaves a strong impression and makes a powerful impact on its audiences by transcending the standard narratives and perspectives of mainstream history to create a more nuanced and complete truth.
In her interview with DiCintio, Christina also remarked how “this play shines a light on the black women who were and were not musicians during this movement who were often marginalized and forced into the background–even though we were the backbone of the movement.”
How would we see each other differently if credit were more often given where credit was due? For instance, what if the contributions of these and other women in black history had been made prominent? How would society evolve if more points of view do not get submerged, lost, hidden or erased?
This year alone, we have most starkly needed to rethink history in light of the revelation that brilliant black women working at NASA were also instrumental in launching astronaut John Glenn into space. The old narrative of the Space Race may have stayed intact if not for authors Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote Hidden Figures, and Duchess Harris and Sue Bradford Edwards, who wrote Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA.
Revealing obscured or missing history has the power to create change. It changes how we see each other and how we see ourselves. It can prevent entrenchment in singular points of view and narrow ways of thinking or even cause a change of heart.
One thing is for certain. After seeing Nina Simone, you won’t come out thinking about the Civil Rights Movement in quite the same way as before.
Nina Simone: Four Women on the Boss Thrust Stage until March 5