How does a “little brown girl” feel power in a nation plagued by discrimination, privilege and bias? Bronx Gothic, which plays Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at Cornell Cinema, follows Okwui Okpokwasili as she passionately examines this topic through drama, comedy and dance.
Okpokwasili’s one-woman show follows the narrative of two young, black girls growing up in the Bronx, one innocent and the other’s life marked by sexual violence and abuse, who communicate on a deeply personal level through the passing of notes.
For the first thirty minutes of the stage version of Bronx Gothic, Okpokwasili simply vibrates in the corner of the stage with the hope that people will be forced to stop asking what is going on and tune in to the frequency that she is emitting. The remainder of her narrative is laid out as a crude series of letters depicting a friendship’s rise and fall, sex, and bias, paired with movements that, at times, bring Okpokwasili to the stage floor.
The documentary depicts Okpokwasili’s interaction with audience members in classroom discussion settings as they explore issues of race, gender and violence, which give us a deep insight into the creative process of Okpokwasili.
We learn from Okpokwasili that her main goal in creating Bronx Gothic was to create a guide for sexuality and race that children like her daughter can use to gain power in their lives. While the focus is primarily on this group of people, young women of color, her stage work — or at least the excerpts shown in the documentary — were immensely moving.
For those who haven’t experienced discrimination and “invisibility,” as Okpokwasili describes it, her body of work creates a passage for empathy and understanding. Even if it’s only for a brief period of time, the audience is able to glimpse into the experience of women of color in the American city.
Along with capturing the power of Okpokwasili’s stage performance, Andrew Rossi, the film’s director, does an incredible job at including elements from Okpokwasili’s personal life. Throughout the film, there is footage of Okpokwasili and her adorable daughter which resonates strongly with viewers as it gives them more insight into the inner workings of Okpowasili’s mind and creative process.
Rossi also includes scenes of discussion between Okpokwasili and her husband Peter Born, also the director of her stage show. The most notable one is about movies that portray Black History within the United States — during this scene we see Mr. Born make statements about African-American Culture that clearly frustrate his wife and thus highlights the importance of discussing sensitive issues such as race so that we can become a more inclusive and understanding society.
Rossi and Okpokwasili’s documentary Bronx Gothic conjures a broad spectrum of emotions — some moments bring discomfort and anger, others immense power and joy. Bronx Gothic is an incredibly relevant documentary to the current state of the world and conveys the immense importance of bringing social issues to the discussion table; it is a must-see for all.
Peter Buonanno is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.