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How can we honor the people whose lives have been unjustly claimed by police brutality? How do the living find peace and understanding after such senseless violence? How can people, especially white people blinded by prejudice or racism, finally see people of color as humans with lives, families, and stories?


These are the questions James Ijames asks of audiences in Kill Move Paradise, and these are the questions that need to be answered before Black lives will matter in America.


Ijames desperately began writing this play in response to the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. He was grappling with his own pain and frustration, as well as societal perceptions of Black people and the never-ending cycle of violence against them. The result is a tribute to Black lives that creates a space to say the names of those killed by police brutality and systemic violence. Nothing will ever justify the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and so many others, but, at the very least, we can say their names out loud.


James Ijames draws from several theatrical eras in this exploration of an issue that spans an equally vast history. He combines the Greek idea of Elysium (or paradise after death) with Beckettian existentialism (a la Sartre) to create a version of the afterlife where characters are finally given the space to process the racism they experienced on Earth. Even upon death, though, the men are not truly free. Ijames’s characters transform into TV sitcom stars, dancing for their audience of judges in a "broken up, shattered, and disturbed Cosby Show opening number. This performative dance sequence uses Brechtian alienation to bring awareness to audience members whose whiteness might be shielding them from the ugliness of everyday injustices.


Though Kill Move Paradise wrestles with extremely violent material, its violence is not recreated onstage – a choice likely inspired by the anti-lynching plays of the early 1900s. These plays were created to affirm Black lives and discuss how lynching terrorized Black families and communities. Rather than full productions, most anti-lynching plays were read in homes, churches, and other communal spaces, creating an active practice of Black belonging. One of these plays, Rachel by Angelina Grimké Weld, was sponsored by the NAACP, but was also highly criticized for appealing to white audiences. Grimké Weld responded by saying she intentionally appealed to white women, hoping that a story about the struggles of motherhood might touch their hearts and help them better understand the Black family’s pain.


Certainly, Kill Move Paradise is a tribute that Amplifies, Empowers, and Illuminates Black lives, but Ijames also issues a call for action, specifically to white audiences. He lets white viewers live in the discomfort of hearing the list of names read aloud and reminds them that their discomfort is nothing compared to systemic racism. When the play finishes, racial violence does not. As white dramaturgs, we must share the burden with collaborators of color, specifically the Black director and all-Black cast of Kill Move Paradise, and continue this conversation beyond this performance. We, the white dramaturgs, must abandon our identity as the silent judges, say these names ourselves, and become active allies against systemic racism.


Ealey, Jordan and Ridley, Leticia. “Early Black Feminist Theatre and Lynching

Dramas Revisited.” Daughters of Lorraine, HowlRound, 12 Nov. 2019.

Resources for active allyship:


The 2020 BET Awards opened with this video of Public Enemy performing their 1989 hit, “Fight the Power.” The video also featured Nas and Black Thought from The Roots adding bars in honor of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

This video was created in response to the killing of George Floyd, when Derek Chauvin, a police officer, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, even when Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” This phrase was also said by Eric Garner, Elijah McCain, Manuel Ellis, Javier Ambler, and other black victims of police violence.

"I can't breathe" has become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. It demonstrates that police brutality has been a problem for a very long time, and the events continue to repeat themselves. The quote also symbolizes the black experience of living in America and feeling trapped in the supposed land of the free.

Video editing by Avery Bruce

Music by Kate Brennan

Created as part of the Ignition Arts Illuminate project.

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