Ryan Calais Cameron: ‘I’ve yet to see an authentic depiction of young Black men on stage or screen’

The writer of a new play about suicide, self-worth and emotional taboos talks to Isobel Lewis about the moment he realised he was viewed differently, and how it inspired him to use his writing to showcase the rich variety of the Black experience

Thursday 21 October 2021 06:30 BST
Hue and cry: the cast of ‘For Black Boys’
Hue and cry: the cast of ‘For Black Boys’ (Ali Wright)

“There are conversations that young Black men are groomed not to be able to have among one another,” Ryan Calais Cameron says. The playwright and founder of theatre company Nouveau Riche may have years of experience in the theatre industry, a space where the sharing of emotions is largely encouraged, but he’s been unable to get past those barriers within his own community. “I’m 33 years old, I’ve never, ever spoken to another Black man about love, about being hurt, being heartbroken,” he tells me over Zoom. “These are things that we are not allowed to talk about.”

His latest work, For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, now showing at New Diorama Theatre, is an attempt to bring about that change. It follows six young men, each named after a different shade of black, taking part in a group therapy session for the first time. Put in a space where honesty is encouraged, they reveal emotion that flows out of them in the form of movement, monologues and music; trauma is mixed with unadulterated joy. The show has been described as a “Black boy fantasia”, but Cameron tells me it also feels like “open heart surgery”. “You’ve held all of these emotions and feelings for the last 20 years and then for two hours, you just go” – he releases an imagined tension – “and spill that.”

Cameron’s show takes its name from Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, considered by many to have been a seminal play for Black women in 1970s America. When Cameron, who hails from southeast London, first read it around 10 years ago, he found himself questioning what the equivalent was for young Black men like him. The answer, he says, was that there just wasn’t one. A decade later, he’s yet to see “an authentic, nuanced depiction of young Black men” on stage or screen. For Black Boys, he’s sure, will change that.

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