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‘Blood At The Root’ recalls infamous Jena Six incident


At Atwater Theatre Village through Oct. 28

This year, Atwater Theatre Village is pleased to present a new-age play entitled “Blood At The Root" now running through Oct. 28. “Blood At The Root” is a modern script based on the 2006 Jena Six Incident. The Jena Six incident was nationally covered and involved the beating of a White student named Justin Barker after several racially-filled incidents took place at Jena High School. The play’s title shares a close relationship with the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit”. The Jena Six incident continues to shed light on the double standards involved in racially charged situations.

The attempted murder charges brought to some six Black students versus the dismissal of three nooses being hung on a tree limb remain relevant in today’s discussion of Black politics. During the case and trial of said students, many spectators and involved parties declared that racial injustice was at play. “Blood At The Root’’ was written by Dominique Morriseau and directed by Michael A. Sheppard. Atwater Theatre Village is located at 3269 Casitas Ave. in Los Angeles.

Prior to the real-life incident, many racially unjust disturbances occurred at the high school; including the destruction by fire of a main building and two violent confrontations resulting in the hanging of three nooses from a tree in the high school courtyard, after a Black student sat under a tree that was historically reserved for White students and has been regarded by some as the “hanging tree”. The set tree was covered in nooses, formerly designed as a threat to inobedient Blacks, and is a parallel to police brutality resulting in multiple shootings of innocent Black individuals.

Michael Sheppard, director, says of Morriseau’s writing,  “Dominique took a real-life incident and fictionalized it to sort of bring up some very interesting questions about where we are in society right now with race and racism, white supremacy, friendship, and love. She’s created an incredibly, almost magical world, a lot of these people are wanting these exact same things but don’t know how to come together.”

Sheppard alludes to the lack of responsibility taken for the hanging of the nooses, saying, “When these three nooses were hung it was a direct threat to Black people and then all of a sudden it became an investigation as opposed to looking at who hung the nooses.” The school dismissed the incident as being a “prank” and continued to punish students in the play with detention for protesting.

The play stars fresh-faced young actors, who throughout the course of the play are dealing with issues such as lack of acceptance regarding a closeted adolescent LGBTQ+ member, lack of repercussions for racist and threatening behavior, and the systematic discrimination of young Black men in the criminal justice system.

The focus of the play were the goals of a very determined female protagonist named Raylynn. Raylynn is played by Nychelle Hawk Raylynn is a high school senior navigating her way through her final year. She decides to run for school government while simultaneously developing a crush on a new transfer, closeted LGBTQ+ student and football player, Colin, played by Jeremy Reiter II. Raylynn’s younger brother and follow football player, DeAndre, played by Nicholas Heard, serves as the male protagonist, and Colin’s foil.

An altercation between the football players breaks out with an attack on Collin cited it as a homophobic incident, resulting in Colin’s injury. Sheppard comments on Colin’s inner conflict; further explaining that Colin is attempting to relate his closeted LGBTQ+ struggle with the Black struggle. However, young Colin fails to realize that his sexuality is irrelevant in the context of criminal court, whereas DeAndre’s skin color is.

Raylynn visits Colin, imploring him to drop the attempted murder charges against her younger brother, DeAndre, to be dropped. Colin angrily sends Raylynn away. Later the remaining students protest in support of DeAndre’s release, soon after he is liberated.

Sheppard says of the systematic racism “One of the things that our society has done is they’re almost making next to impossible for any young Black person to graduate without going to prison. Just by the fact that you are a White male, you have the power to fix all of this. In closing, he says of Colin’s responsibility to exercise integrity as a White male, “What you say next, whether for good or bad, is going to affect this Black family’s lives.” For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Open Fist Theatre Company – The theatre of life. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Open First Theatre Company - The theatre of life. Ticket prices range from $20-30$.