"Sutter's Ghost, Crawley's Gun, Diamond Reynolds's Cell Phone: A (Piano) Lesson in Law Enforcement and How to Realize #BlackLivesMatter"


If you're going to be in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of October 6-8, please join us at The August Wilson Society's An August Occasion: A National Conference to Assess the Life and Legacy of August Wilson.  

In particular, look out for my paper, "Sutter's Ghost, Crawley's Gun, Diamond Reynolds's Cell Phone: A (Piano) Lesson in Law Enforcement and How to Realize #BlackLivesMatter" on Saturday, October 8th.

August Wilson’s A Piano Lesson (1990) is a production that steadily building towards, yet finds creative ways to avoid, the violent end. The playwright’s conciliatory ending not only subverts narrative convention—consider the Chekhov’s Gun principle—but also challenges the uniformity of deadly outcomes found in recent police shootings. That the U. S. has become a nation that glorifies the gun results from a complex cultural history. That the U. S. is now also a nation de-sensitized to the violence of police guns is a more disconcerting phenomenon. When we register the inversion of theatrical convention that is Wilson’s “anti-gun violence” ending, the July 2016 Facebook Livestream of Philando Castille’s shooting death (recorded by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds), dramatizes how the firing of police service weapons is strangely and strategically necessitated within American culture. This paper reads the ending of August Wilson's A Piano Lesson in light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The ubiquity of video recordings of police shootings and the proliferation of the public’s function as virtual onlookers stage these police encounters in dramaturgical ways that anticipate and precipitate the gun’s firing. The lesson presaged in Wilson’s title, then, derives from why Berniece, his central character, avoids firing Crawley’s gun at play’s end. By analyzing American policing in light of Wilson’s anticlimax, an “audience-as-activists” model is presented to figure alternatives to video recording for black resistance to gun violence.

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