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Brown Guy Thoughts

Usman Ally

France kind of intrigues me.

Not in a romantic or mysterious way though, I just find modern day France to be a pretty interesting, mixed up kind of place. I hate Charles DeGaulle airport. I was stuck there for about 12 hours last Christmas and it was the pits. Nowhere to sit, nowhere to sleep, and thousands of people just waiting for their severely delayed flights. It was another strangely ironic moment for me. Here I was at a major airport in Europe and I felt like I was back in Tanzania. Not in a good way. It was just lousy. And the food? Girl, don’t even get me started on the food. Granted it was an airport, but the gourmet lasagne was….forgettable. And the veggie soup looked like a green goupy pondscum.

French people intrigue me even more. I have one French friend. He’s nice, he’s a film maker. I have met many other French people, and not to stereotype, but they were pretty rude.

French football is even more intriguing. The French National football team that won the 1998 World Cup was hailed for its multiculturalism. There were more than just Tri-colour on that field. They had Zidane from Algeria, Desailly from Ghana, Makelele from Congo, Vieira from Senegal and on and on. Every former colony was represented on that field, far outnumbering the white French players.

But multiculturalism is praised only when you win. In 1998, the story was of rags to riches. Poor ghetto boys now superstars. In 2008, a similar team lost poorly, and was labeled thugs, criminals and gangbangers… though non of these descriptions had anything to do with how they played on the field and everything to do with therir impoverished backgrounds. It also ripped off the thin veneer of togetherness and racial harmony in France.

Similarly, France has a hijab ban. No girls can wear headscarfs to school, I have lost track on whether its been successfully appealed or not. Couple of years back major riots occurred in the streets of Paris mainly expressing the angry grievances of the young disenfranchised muslim youth…you know, Zidane’s ilk.

So what is it, Mr Sarkozy? Racial Harmony in the birthplace of the Republic, or simply a continuation of the Master/Slave relationship….which way do you wanna go Nick?

About a week ago the head coach of France’s football team expressed a need for a quota system in French football to clamp down on how many black and Arab football players can play for the team. Laurent Blanc said something like we are only producing big, fast and powerful players, and these are of course the blacks and arabs.” Take what you will from that.

For me, writing a play on all this mish mash of happenings in France seemed a fun little endeavor. My writing is repetitive and rhythmic and its not because I’m trying to make a point or have my head so far up my own ass…though perhaps some might argue this. Its really stream of consciousness writing. I think like this: Flow, flow, flow, stop. Flow, flow, flow, STOP, Flow, Flow, Flow.

So lo and behold my writing runs like that too. Sometimes my thoughts are repetitive not because I’m trying to hammer home a point, but rather because I just like words. I like them a lot.

BUT, at the same time, I also like editting them out. And particularly after I hear from a trusted director that somethings might not be needed. Being a Chicago raised actor (dis is where I gots my chops) I truly need the collaborative element of an ensemble to help me fine tune my stuff.

I can write a stream of consciousness type piece like FRANCOPHILE for the One Minute Fest in under 5 minutes because I like to write about things that are constantly swimming around in my head. Identity Politics does laps and laps in my head in every fucking stroke imaginable. But when a cast reads it out loud, when I hear it out loud, when I see or am told whats working, I can get rid of things very fast as well. I don’t think my words are golden. If something needs to go, its gone. Whats important to me is that the flow, the pace, the energy and commitment of the piece comes through.

So, my process for this play went a little something like this:

LOVE FOOTBALL → THINKING ABOUT RACE —> READING BBC —>READING AL JAZEERA —> READING ABOUT FOOTBALL AND RACE —> THINKING ABOUT FRANCE AND MY EXPERIENCE —> REPEAT ALL OF THAT —>WRITE IT. —->MAKE EDITS BASED ON FEEDBACK and done.

Not particularly impressive or insightful. But hopefully, the play will be.

PEACE

-Usman Ally


100 Plays. 50 Playwrights. 1 Minute. The  Chicago One-Minute Play Festival with Victory Gardens Theater will be presented on May 15th and 16th, 2011. Tickets are available here

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