By Nakkiah LuiDramaSydney Theatre Company

Black is the New White

Charlotte Gibson (Shari Sebbens) is a lawyer on the up. She won a landmark Native Title case, she’s making her parents proud, she could have her own TV show tomorrow. As her father Ray (Tony Briggs) says, she could be the next feminist Indigenous Waleed Aly. But she has other ideas. First of all, it’s Christmas. Second of all, she’s in love.

Charlotte's fiancé, Francis Smith (James Bell), is not what her family expected. He's an unemployed experimental classical composer … and he's white! Bringing him and his conservative parents to meet her family on their ancestral land is a bold move. Will he stand up to the scrutiny? Or will this romance descend into farce?

Love is never just black and white. It’s complicated by class, politics, ambition, and too much wine over dinner. But for Charlotte and Francis, it's mostly complicated by family. Secrets are revealed, prejudices outed and old rivalries get sorted through. What can’t be solved through diplomacy can surely be solved by a good old-fashioned dance-off. They’re just that kind of family.

This incisive comedy is newly commissioned by STC, and writer Nakkiah Lui shows why she is one of this country’s most in-demand young voices. A writer and star of Black Comedy on ABC, Lui delivers cutting satire that is both seductively subversive and thoroughly delightful.

Portrait of Nakkiah Lui

Nakkiah Lui

Nakkiah Lui is a writer and actor and Gamillaroi/Torres Strait Islander woman. She is a co-writer and star of Black Comedy on ABC TV and is a monthly columnist for the Australian Women's Weekly Online. She has been an artist in residence at Griffin Theatre Company and was playwright in residence at Belvoir from 2012–2014. 

In 2012, Nakkiah was the first recipient of The Dreaming Award from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Arts Board of the Australia Council. The same year, Nakkiah was also the inaugural recipient of the Balnaves Foundation Indigenous Playwright award. In 2014, Nakkiah was the recipient of the Malcolm Robertson Prize and a Green Room Award for Best Independent Production.

Judges’ report

Black is the New White nods to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but 2017, Oz- style. It is a refreshing take on politics, race and class – the middle class – with two families from either side of the political spectrum. Both the Gibsons, a successful black family ('race is the family business'), and the Smiths, a right-wing WASP family, have offspring of a marriageable age. But falling in love with your father’s nemesis’s son pushes family loyalty to the brink, forcing arch-enemies Ray Gibson and Dennison Smith to bury the hatchet – but not in each other for a change. Lui has tremendous fun playing with these flawed characters and has wrought a clever and satisfying farce.

Extract

Lounge room and Dining Room adjoined in open space living. The walls are artfully adorned with family photos in expensive frames. Wrapped presents sit around the room and the remains of present wrapping paraphernalia lay around the room. Cicadas buzz. The lights comes in and then sets again. FRANCIS plays a modern, experimental classical piece on the cello.

NARRATOR                             

Many people know the name Ray Gibson, but what they don’t know is that Ray Gibson was the son of a drover. As a young boy he moved around often, and his world was safe and insular. 

As a teen he moved to the big smoke and all of a sudden he felt like an outsider, like he couldn't find his place. 

This turned him into a fighter. Both on the streets and in the ring. He would train in the mornings, doing speed and punching exercises. And then use what he learnt at training in the evenings; getting into punch ups and running from the coppas.                                   

Ray Gibson was an unhappy young man. One day Ray’s mum dragged him to church. It was at church that a nice White lady gave Ray a book. It was called ‘Where Do We Go From Here; Chaos or Community’ by Martin Luther King. This book made Ray Gibson feel like he wasn’t alone in the world. 

To Ray, the book was about hope. How the one thing mankind has is hope and it was with hope that he went forward. Inspired by the words of Dr King, Ray Gibson went forward and never turned back.

The man you are watching is not Ray Gibson. Of course it’s not. Ray is Aboriginal. This is Francis Smith. He’s white. He is also the fiancé of Charlotte, Ray’s youngest daughter.

But you see, Ray does not know this yet. In fact, no one knows this yet. But that is about to change very soon.

And who am I might you ask? Some people call me The Narrator, but I prefer: the Spirit of Christmas.

CHARLOTTE enters, balancing a laptop in one hand and a water in the other, headphones in and having a Skype meeting.

CHARLOTTE         

Yes, but that isn’t anyone’s prerogative aside from his - I said that’s not anyone’s prero - prerogative. Prerogative. Yes. That is a word.

Pardon? That’s what I’ve been saying.

Yes, but you’re just saying what I said a different way.

I would be very happy to have a conversation with the minister about those changes. Of course. Why wouldn’t I be? I mean, I’ve had the same conversation with all of his predecessors and his advisors, and their predecessors and their advisors… why not the man himself. Yes. Thanks. You too.  Merry Christmas. 

FRANCIS stops playing. He pours CHARLOTTE a glass of wine. She hesitates, and then takes it.

CHARLOTTE         

Do you ever just hate your job?

FRANCIS

No, I love my job.

CHARLOTTE

You play the cello, of course you love your job.

Maybe hate is too strong a word. Maybe I mean dislike.

Dislike. I dislike my job. No, I definitely mean hate.

I hate my job.

Franny, I hate my job. 

FRANCIS

Darling, I hate when you call me Franny.

CHARLOTTE

Franny, maybe I should just give everything up practicing law and work in a shop?

FRANCIS                                  

I don’t know… I think it’d be pretty shit. 

CHARLOTTE                           

Here, do me a favour and pass me the paper. Not that paper, the other one. The gold one. And the scissors. And the tape. Thank you, my darling.

FRANCIS                                  

Who’s the blow up pink flamingo for? 

CHARLOTTE                           

Mum. Last year I got her a gold swan and she hated it. So this year, a pink flamingo. 

FRANCIS                                  

How passive aggressive of you.

CHARLOTTE                           

It’s not like that. We’re not White people. It’s just a joke. Also, you got her this. 

CHARLOTTE hands FRANCIS a box.

FRANCIS                                  

Gypsy Water? What kind of name is Gypsy Water?

CHARLOTTE                           

She loves it. They only stock it in Sweden. After I casually mentioned that she had run out, you went online and ordered it for her especially.

FRANCIS                                  

I did? 

CHARLOTTE                           

Yes. 

FRANCIS                                  

Isn’t Gypsy Water a form of cultural appropriation? Aren’t Gypsies actually a cultural group? Weren’t you lecturing me about that the other day? I believe the precise words were “All inequalities are connected and privilege is thinking something isn’t an issue because it’s not an issue to you”

CHARLOTTE                           

…. Yes. And my point that cultural appropriation is cultural colonisation still stands BUT this smells so good.

And I think it’s a reference to some culture thing… of the makers… of the people… who make the scent… the perfume scent.

FRANCIS

They have Gypsies in Sweden?

CHARLOTTE
There are gypsies everywhere.
 

FRANCIS                                  

You say that like we have one living under the stairs.
And am I giving the Gypsy perfume to this woman here? 

FRANCIS motions to a picture on the wall.

CHARLOTTE                           

Yes.

FRANCIS                                  

Now I see where you get your looks from. 

CHARLOTTE                           

Did you really just say that? 

FRANCIS                                  

I did.

 CHARLOTTE                           

Disgusting. Kiss me. 

They kiss. CHARLOTTE dawdles over to get a chocolate from a box across the room and dawdles back. FRANCIS continues to look at the pictures.

FRANCIS                                  

Is that your mum’s father?

CHARLOTTE                           

Yep. Amazing cheek bones.

Mum was beautiful. I mean, it’s not like she isn’t now. She is, great for her age, you’ll see.

Why do we say ‘for their age?’

That’s so ageist. And sexist. Because we really only say it for women, don’t we?

God, all these behaviours are just so ingrained in me. It’s disgusting. I’m disgusting.

Anyways.                                                                   

That was her at her… her grad ball for nursing, I think. 

CHARLOTTE continues to wrap presents.

FRANCIS                                  

Is this your Dad and Bill Clinton?

CHARLOTTE                           

Oh yeah, they’re buddies.

FRANCIS                                  

Ha. Buddies. You say that so casually. 

CHARLOTTE                           

We call him Uncle.

FRANCIS                                  

Really?

CHARLOTTE                           

Of course not. I was joking. We barely know the bloke. But please remember to try and sound as impressed as you just did when you meet my father. It’ll appeal to his ego. His huge ego.

FRANCIS

I won’t have to try.

CHARLOTTE

Aren’t you used to this stuff?

FRANCIS                                  

My father was never as popular with the proletariat as your father was. Or popular with anyone actually. 

The Premier’s 21 Shortlist