Walking down the halls of the White House, I realized how very much in the present I felt. I walked down these halls before, I was sure of it. I strolled on the bold red carpets as the alabaster white walls watched me. I studied the house staff as they smiled warmly and passed champagne to our company of guests. I turned a corner and a dining room was right were I expected it to be. My first time at the White House, for real!!! I was on a Hollywood set before as the White House Maitre D in Lee Daniel's "The Butler."
"Selma" brought me here. An epic undertaking by many heroes. To share in this moment with the President and the First Lady of United States was as normal as doing it across theatres in America with everyone of you. We are all one. I flew from London to Washington D.C. For 24 breathtaking hours.
I am in the center of two dynamic and polarizing pieces of art and knowledge that challenges the American psyche. The Oscar-nominated film "Selma" and the London Evening Standard Award winning musical The Scottsboro Boys, have both challenged, been criticized, acclaimed, disparaged and heralded for their thoughtful, insightful portrayals of protest movements. Their audiences, shaken to the core, thrilled, moved, brought to tears, filled with pain of our collective history, humanity, now matter how dark. Or light.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" — a well-worn quote by George Santayana is what comes to mind as we stand at this crossroads in the consciousness of America. From afar, I have cried watching my nation, sore with prejudice, slowly heal itself. I hurt along with America, my phantom pains only alleviated by work I do every day — art. On the night of protests in New York, the air at The Garrick Theater on London's West End was crackling. Our pre-show ritual prayer was especially heartfelt. American and British brothers embracing, coming together for humanity. Art that connects nations once at war. What power. It is true that as people, we tend to remember only the positive. With time, the grim details fade away, and as a species we survive on this notion. In our desire to gloss over the undeniable macabre parts of our American history, we forget. That amnesia manifests itself, especially when dealing with the plight of black men. My ancestors were brought here as slaves, and then freed by Lincoln. Martin Luther King liberated us a hundred years later. Now we have a black President. Still, as a nation that likes a narrative of our marginalization, is it too painful to see who we really are?
A friend once said, "Politics does not work, religion is too eclectic but art…art just might be the parachute that saves us all." I believe this wholeheartedly. My collaborators Ms. DuVernay, Mr. Spielberg, Ms. Stroman, Mr. Fugard and Mr. Lee all call on me to be a conduit to give voice to ordinary humans doing extraordinary things. As I stood in the presence of the White House, embraced by our black President and the First Lady, surrounded by a small group of congressmen and our Selma company, I realized that we are inherently activists, through our medium as producers, actors, designers, editors, etc. I smiled at the portrait of Abraham Lincoln and knew that we still have a long road ahead. But we can. And we must.