A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White

by Adrienne Kennedy
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In A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, Clara is a young writer living in a world that fails to provide her with master narratives of African-American and feminine origins. In what ways is the character's suspension in this centerless terrain captured onstage, not only as a private instance but also as a symptom of a larger, collective experience?

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Clara is the central, unifying character in all the play's scenes, but she does not play a major role in all of them. Rather, she often presents herself as extraneous to the action or as an observer. She uses Hollywood films from the 1930s–1950s as analogies to her family’s experience and, by extension, to the Americans experience.

In the first two scenes, the initial parallels are between her parents and a Bette Davis film, and her brother and Viva Zapata. These links are further joined by a bed in a honeymoon suite and in a hospital. Scene 3 switches to Clara’s analogy to Shelley Winters’s character, a drowning victim, in A Place in the Sun. Confronting her brother’s mortality has forced Clara to confront her own place in American society and to embrace the stark realism of class-based conflict that this film encapsulates.

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