Playwright Somebody Jones grew up in Los Angeles but in her mid 20s, she moved to London to get her MFA in playwriting and dramaturgy. There she found herself doing something she never thought she would do: she started dating a white man. As a Black woman, she felt conflicted about it. She then wondered if any other Black women had the same experience.
“I had been dating my boyfriend at the time for four months, and I didn’t know any other Black or mixed woman who was dating a white man,” she said. “So I was like, it’s the perfect time for me to find community.” As part of a grad school assignment last year to create a documentary play, Jones found five Black women who were willing to speak frankly and honestly about their experiences in interracial relationships. The text of those interviews became Black Women Dating White Men, a frank and funny look at modern love.
Black Women Dating White Men was originally supposed to tour the UK this summer, but COVID changed those plans. The play will tour in 2021, assuming theaters reopen in the UK. In the meantime, Jones and her director Khadifa Wong wanted to keep the play alive. So they filmed it, recontextualizing it as a Zoom call between five girlfriends, wine glasses in hand. According to Wong, the script didn’t have to be changed at all.
“That was what was so brilliant about it, and why I love the script,” said Wong. “I think the beauty of the writing, it lends itself to whatever context you want to put it in.”
The team originally submitted Black Women Dating White Men to the Hollywood Fringe in Los Angeles, where it played earlier this summer as part of the festival’s all-virtual program. Then they submitted to the Fringe of Colour Festival in the UK. The play will stream online August 8-14 and again Aug 22-28.
When the show was at the Hollywood Fringe, the audiences were from America and the UK, as well as Europe and Trinidad. “We did better than we expected,” said Jones. “People saw it who would not have had the chance to see it, which I think was great.”
Alternatively probing, tender and funny, Black Women Dating White Men fits perfectly within today’s entertainment ecosystem, where television shows like Insecure or I May Destroy You are presenting a hyper-realistic look at contemporary, and cosmopolitan, Black life. In Black Women Dating White Men, the women are honest about the struggles of dating outside their race, such as one who says: “He’s never gonna know what it feels like to have this sense of otherness. It can also be very straining to continuously explain why I feel this way about this kind of thing.”
But they’re also honest about why they said yes to going on a date with a white man in the first place, such as one character who says, “I haven’t run into Black men who were ready to be in a relationship.” While they were creating the show, both Jones and Wong were dating white men (Wong’s relationship status now: “It’s complicated”). But what the artists both learned from the play was that it takes patience to make those relationships work, and a willingness to truly be open and communicative.
“I would say you have to obviously like the person, and then it’s all about patience,” said Jones, who is still dating the same man from last year. “Even in the play, one character talks about how tiring it is, and you really don’t understand how tiring it is until you’re in it. I just feel like it depends on the person. If you find somebody that you really like, and you want to invest time in, then yes, it’s worth it.”
What Wong loves about the play is that it features five different women, showing their different approaches to relationships, their differing opinions, and their individuality. In entertainment, it’s still rare to see multiple Black women given space to talk frankly about their lives.
“With any ethnic group that isn’t white, how we’re dealt with in the media is very monolithic,” said Wong. “And they never see that within our groups, there are layers and light and shade in the conversations that we’re having within ourselves. But we’re always expected to be one way and that’s just not true.” She then added, “The moment I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling guilty for dating a white man, it made me feel more comfortable in my choices of a partner because I was like, I’m not the only person that struggles and feels this way.”
When creating the video version of Black Women Dating White Men, Wong approached it like a film. The actors were asked to do two takes of every scene, and then Wong spent a week editing it together. “I really enjoyed dictating certain moments, and playing up certain moments,” said Wong. “I treated it like a film. I didn’t treat it like a play.”
The two friends are still in London, and still see each other regularly. Jones is currently working a day job, while Wong is currently furloughed from her job as a dresser on The Lion King on the West End. Though Wong was an active and healthy dancer before, she is still recovering from a bout of COVID-19.
“I will yell it from the rooftops anyone that thinks that this is just flew and a little bit of an inconvenience is completely wrong,” said Wong. “I was exhausted. I’m still exhausted. I still struggle going on, like, a 40-minute walk. My goal for this year was to be able to do the same gymnastics I could do as a 12 year old. And I was almost there before lockdown here. So that’s a sign of how my fitness and my health plummeted through COVID.”
Meanwhile Jones is at work on two other documentary theater plays: Present Black Fathers, where her dad is one of the subjects, and Black and Bi, about bisexuality in the Black community. She says that presenting Black Women Dating White Men while the Blacks Live Matter protests were happening in London made the play feel that much more essential for her, in how funny and hopeful it ends up being about how Black and white people can learn from each other, and in that, learn how to truly love each other.
“The quotes that sort of bookend the piece is from Tonya Ingram, about how love is a revolutionary act,” said Jones. “I actually found [the play] funnier. Because we are dealing with such heavy things, because it’s so much about love, I feel like you can feel that love from these performers. It’s added a level of lightness with that deepness.”
As for how we can all live in the world together, Jones believes change comes in two ways, on a societal level but also on an interpersonal level. “You might do your part in voting and trying to change legislation but also, it is important to change the people around you,” she said. “If you care about someone, influence them, and if it’s too much work then obviously, let that person go and hope that they find the light.”