Cutting look at ‘playing’ today’s black woman

FINDING A WAY THROUGH: ‘She Bellows’ cast members Leorna Moya, Mbali Ka Ngwenya, Boitumelo Modise and Kgaogelo Monama at the National Arts Festival Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA
FINDING A WAY THROUGH: ‘She Bellows’ cast members Leorna Moya, Mbali Ka Ngwenya, Boitumelo Modise and Kgaogelo Monama at the National Arts Festival Picture: SINO MAJANGAZA
Confessions of a Black Listed Woman: She Bellows tackles a number of intertwined themes looking at black femalehood today.

It tells a satirical story of four dolls (women), who are trapped at a Doll Expo under the ownership of the Doll Master (played by Dineo Komane).

The girls have been stripped of their native selves and transformed into man-made plastic figures up for bidding to wealthy men looking for sex.

Madam Doll Master has taken Proto Ho, who plays the role of a teacher, and her students Pussy Ho-Lala, Pretty Ho and Porky Ho under her wing.

She trains them to speak, act and think “white”.

At the back of the stage in a makeshift cage is Priscilla, who represents the African woman with her unkept afro and Xitsonga outfit. She is kept away from the girls because of her otherness, but becomes a central figure as the play unfolds.

With the knowledge of whiteness instilled in the dolls, a slip of the tongue from Pretty Ho, who uses Sesotho to express herself, leaves the other dolls bewildered.

They perform a cleansing ritual to punish her for being “the black that refuses to crack”.

Proto Ho says: “We are trying to be white, but since white is too far, we’ll settle for yellow.”

Speaking with the Dispatch, King William’s Town-born director Zimkhitha Kumbaca said: “The girls portray how black girls are towards one another today.

“The play encapsulates everything black women have been going through and their struggles right now.

“It portrays patriarchy from woman to woman. You’re told that you need to strip off this and that if you want to make it.”

The Doll Master then declares the Doll Expo open, and the dolls ready to be “tested and tried” by the gentlemen.

Unbeknown to her, though, is that she failed to fully brainwash the dolls as she had wished.

She leaves them, thinking the Expo will carry on, but instead the dolls engage in dialogue about their desire to be African women.

They approach Priscilla, also called “the monkey” because she’s regarded as primitive.

They inquire what they need to do in order to become African women and ask her to break them out of “doll mode”.

“Until when will we be plastic, blonde wig wearing, monotonous speaking, thinking, talking dolls?

“We need to break out of doll mode and become African women permanently,” Proto Ho says.

The beauty ideal is a key element significantly questioned in the play.

Priscilla is labelled the monkey because she does not match the “standard”. Because of her afro and her refusal to speak English she is labelled primitive.

“It starts at preschool”, Kumbaca said. “You begin to realise how much of an outsider you are.

“My age group came through at a time when blacks were being accepted into white schools for the first time. You feel the ‘otherness’.”

The play then progresses to unanticipated and startling scenes, as it gropes with issues burdening black womanhood in modern day times.

Sexuality, identity, rape culture and consent, social media, and the power of the female body are dealt with in a provocative and confrontational manner.

It touches extensively on abuse that goes unreported because the woman is told to grin and bear it, and stay.

“Marriage is the true home of the African woman. Do everything that he likes or else he will leave you. Stay in that loveless marriage.

“You won’t be happy but you’ll be married. You’ll be secure, and that security will make life easy.”

These are some of the words told to women who endure violent, loveless marriages.

The display of the female body as an object to be violated and used by men was portrayed so intensely that it left the audience feeling torn and uncomfortable.

The dolls’ desire to be African women opened a Pandora’s box of revelations which questioned and challenged views on femininity and identity.

As the girls go through a series of trance switches between being African and being plastic, reflections of all that is wrong in society are highlighted in a brutally forthright manner.

The line between being offended and amused were blurred, as the actresses held nothing back in this tell-all tale.

Confessions of a Black Listed Woman: She Bellows is an intense, satirical, gut-wrenching narration of societal truths with thought- provoking content that grips you long after the play has ended.

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