Detroit ’67 to start conversations and change on Black Culture

A “Detroit ‘67” poster displayed inside the Speech Arts building outside of the John Wright Theatre. (Alex Yanez/The Collegian)

“Detroit ‘67” is a play written by Dominique Morisseau, a playwright and actress. It depicts a struggling black family trying to make ends meet by starting a family business. 

An abandoned young woman is brought in by the family, causing tension among the family while the Detroit riots are ongoing. 

The play is being directed by Thomas-Whit Ellis, a professor in the theatre arts program. His focus in teaching is African American theatre and directing.

“This play was chosen because of its musical forms, which sheds light on the ‘Motown Sound,’” said Ellis. “A massive R&B brand that engendered interest from blacks and whites as well as shaping the careers of musicians and singers to this day.”

“Its essential narratives, its examination of the human condition by way of black culture, norms or history,” said Ellis. “Its value as a learning tool, its blending casting possibilities, and its potential appear to local audiences.”

Ellis said that racial tensions and divisiveness are at a new high and he feels that a play like “Detroit ‘67” can help bridge that gap. 

“Most of this tension is based on a fundamental lack of understanding of other cultures, races, and traditions,” said Ellis. “People tend to dislike, reject, or discount what they don’t understand.”

Deseree Whitt plays one of the lead roles in the show, named Bunny. 

“Bunny is a very energetic, very sexy, flirtatious, friendly character. She doesn’t let anything get her down,” said Whitt. “So she tries to see the world in color; rather than black and white. She’s really fun.”

Whitt expected the audience to learn what life was at the time in 1967 and how they should use that to reflect on their own personalities and actions.

“The young Fresno State student might not know about the history of the race riots of 1967,” said Whitt. “So it kind of opens a door for them to like research it further.”

She feels that this could be a good way to start a conversation and enact change for those who come and watch the play.

Arium Andrews also plays a lead role in the show. She plays Michelle, also known as Chelle in the play.

“My character is a very strong woman. Nothing really impresses her I would say,” said Andrews. 

“She’s older, so she is more wise and very selective of the decisions she chooses to make.”

Chelle is the caretaker of the family, as her mother and father had passed away. She is the foundation that keeps the family together. 

“I want people to really grasp an understanding that it did take place during the race riots in 1967 in Detroit,” said Andrews. “Hopefully a lot of people who come to see it would relate to it if they were involved in that time.”

Both Whitt and Andrews researched the events of 1967 to prepare themselves for their roles. 

“Seeing the race riots from this family’s perspective is a little bit eye-opening just because they’re people not trying to cause any harm,” said Whitt. “Trying to live a better life and trying to better themselves.”

For Andrews, she said she’s using her mother’s and father’s experiences with prejudice during their lives. She also viewed interviews from people who lived through that time on YouTube as a way to prepare herself for the role. 

“I believe that our black culture needs to come together more and be closer. So that way our voices can be heard, but not just only black people,” said Andrews. “I think other people in other race groups can also get involved and help.”

“I think it all comes from our black culture, sticking together and learning to be strong as ourselves because if we’re not being strong in our race group,” said Andrews. “We are not setting an example to other races out there because they are not taking us seriously.”

According to Fresno State Arts and Humanties, Detriot ’67 both events on March 21 and March 22 have been canceled due to the Coronavirus. Tickets purchased online will be automatically refunded.

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