For the past few days, critic/comedian Ashley Ray and Tony-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris have been bickering on Twitter over Harris’ controversy slave game—a satire of rape, mammy costumes, excessive use of the n-word and abusive imagery, including a black woman being forced to eat melons off the floor. It recently broke the record for most Tony Award nominations in history (before it was 0 to 12 at the awards).
Have read slave game, which is about a group of multiracial couples who participate in “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” to solve Black partners’ intimacy issues, I wasn’t interested in seeing it performed. But Harris’ exchanges with his critics were not about whether the play “provocative“, “funny, scalding, walking along the line between black and white in America,” as mainstream critics saw it, but about where a black woman can express her genuine feelings slave game and his portrayal of women without freaking out the playwright. The answer is clearly no.
Although both Harris and Ray identify as Black, in situations where gender and race are at the root of production, intersectionality matters. It’s one thing for a black man to make a play that involves race, but using black women as a source of sexual exploitation opens them up to a different level of expectation, responsibility, and explanation.
The dusting started after Ray saw it slave game with Black TV writer Kyra Jones and tweeted a viral thread about why she questioned Harris’ script and how she felt it “disregarded black women.”
Ray refers to a line – one of many chilling ones in the play – in which a black female character named Kaneisha says, “The elders don’t care that you’re a demon, they mess with you too…they just want, that you know.” in reference to her interracial relationship with a white man.
“My elders, my ancestors didn’t ‘lay’ with demons,” Ray tweeted. “They were coerced by demons, raped by demons, hurt by demons, some of them were kids, little girls who had everything taken from them by demons in a way I can never experience having consensual sex with a white person .” (Jones, who has written for shows like ABC’s Queens and Hulus Woke up, replied to the thread Adding their own concerns about slave game as a black woman.)
In response, Harris, who collected a a reputation for being hypersensitive to criticism on other projects he has worked onShe went on the offensive, accusing Ray of “blatantly misrepresenting the staging, audience interactions and my writing for likes.”
Then him tried to diveand said it’s “always great to have loud critics interested in your work, but I think I should pay @theeashleyray for the sheer breadth of their free PR.”
While boasting about the play’s sales, he did not address Ray’s concerns, adding to concerns several black critics, among others, had about the play. As replied Ray“I never said people shouldn’t watch it, I think people should look into it themselves. It just so happens that a lot of people thought I was articulating something they hated.
Rather than deal with or tacitly absorb Ray’s criticism, Harris pulled the show-how-many-people-saw-it-so-it-must-be-good card that people of some level of fame often use to convey accountability and avoiding responsibility for their work—as if someone were to say, “Green Book doesn’t have to be bad because it won the Oscar for best picture.”
How does Harris skip Ray’s concerns about misogyny and disregard for black ancestry in his play? He posted a TikTok video of a sea of black people, including a number of influential people who watched his show and tweeted that they visited Ray’s DMs to personally invite her to watch the show. Again, he defensively played the “see who likes it” card rather than defending his work on the merits in response to concerns raised by a black woman he invited to see and engage with .
Harris’ distractions show he’s just looking for more fans, not critical thinkers. Imagine creating something so instinctive, uncomfortable and taboo and then expecting people to just praise it. When slave game is supposed to evoke emotions in people, so why be so damn sensitive to the reactions? Especially when the source of that frustration comes from black women, in a play that focuses on them.
Harris literally made a play about multiracial couples engaging in problematic sex in the context of slavery — how the hell doesn’t he expect to be challenged about that?