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Malcolm X: On stage, in person and human at last

One of the most gut-wrenching lines in the play is said by one of the several secretaries of Elijah Muhammad who the Nation of Islam leader impregnated. “We’re women, secretaries, Negroes, and we’re Muslim,” she says. “If there is a low on the totem pole, put us there or put us under the pole.”

While Shabazz was never a secretary for the Nation, she’s too often relegated to a footnote in Malcolm X’s story; put under the pole, if you will. In “X,” she is center stage, a fully realized being and something beyond a partner to a great man. Ruff’s Shabazz is a regal caretaker and articulate warrior, one who tirelessly demands justice for her husband and family even as she mourns him. She said it was Gardley’s desire for and success in giving Shabazz a voice that piqued her interest. It is, unfortunately, something rarely afforded women in the movement.

To Gardley, Malcolm X is one of the more misremembered and undervalued American heroes. He sees Betty Shabazz in much the same way. In response, he’s offered us a play that tells the story of the famous couple with rare understanding, nuance, appreciation and humanity, a work he and Ruff see as imminently relevant today.

“I feel like Malcolm X’s message has such a current resonance,” Gardley said. “A lot of people are angry, and a lot of people feel like traditional protest is not working for them.” Ruff added, “It’s going to be awhile before plays like this aren’t relevant.”

Gardley describes the play as a “love letter to Malcolm X,” but he also wants his audience to take their jobs seriously as jurors and, afterwards, as messengers. “The play really is a call to arms,” he said. “The play asks you to take this story and to tell people who Malcolm X really was and by virtue of doing that, justice is being served.” And, yes, you leave “X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation” changed, a bit transformed, much as Malcolm X himself was later in life as a leader, as a thinker, as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz.

Source: Salon: in-depth news, politics, business, technology & culture > Politics

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