Can someone just give Cee-Lo Green a contract to write a Hairspray-style period musical already?
I saw The Help last night (about which much more to come tomorrow) so I’m particularly in this space, but I would love to see a great-looking early ’60s period piece starring African-American characters as something other than than the soundtrack to or catalysts for white people’s moral awakenings. That’s not to say that white people didn’t play a role in the Civil Rights movement, or that they didn’t pay terrible costs for doing so. Of course they did. But at the end of a big struggle, there’s a difference between feeling good about yourself for participating, and being able to work, or eat, or take the bus wherever you’d like without fear of violent death. I’d just like to see something where a black character gets the makeover, the guy, the ’60s-ified soundtrack, and, if it’s that kind of story, credit for a civil rights victory.
But if it’s not, that’s OK too. It would be a mistake to tell a race-blind stories set in the ’60s, but that doesn’t mean that every single story about African-Americans at the time has to be primarily about the Civil Rights movement. I would love to see what Cee-Lo, who seems substantially invested in proving his period bona fides, did with some sort of mandate like this. OutKast’s bootlegger musical Idlewild was, I thought, an interesting but imperfect experiment. I’d like to see more people working in this space, trying to figure out how to tell different kinds of black stories — and, as a musical theater nerd, to keep pushing for hip-hop’s place in the musical world. Especially if it means more dancing Jaleel White.