“I’m Black an’ I’m Proud”: Ruth Negga, Breakfast on Pluto, and Invisible Irelands

Posted in Articles, Arts, Communications/Media Studies, Europe, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2009-10-29 00:53Z by Steven

“I’m Black an’ I’m Proud”: Ruth Negga, Breakfast on Pluto, and Invisible Irelands

Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visible Culture
Issue number 13 (Spring 2009): After Post-Colonialism
University of Rochester, New York

Charlotte McIvor, Lecturer in Drama
National University Ireland, Galway

This article examines Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga‘s performance in Neil Jordan’s 2005 Breakfast on Pluto in light of recent cultural, racial, and socio-economic shifts in Irish society. How does Negga’s identity as an Irish actress of color influence possible receptions of this film in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland and contest notions of Irishness that have typically been allied only with whiteness?

Roddy Doyle famously posited a relationship between the Irish and African-Americans thus in his 1987 novel The Committments:

–The Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads.
They nearly gasped: it was so true.
–An’ Dubliners are the niggers of Ireland. The culchies have fuckin’ everythin’. An’ the northside Dubliners are the niggers o’ Dublin. —–Say it loud, I’m black an’ I’m proud.
He grinned. He’d impressed himself again.
He’d won them. They couldn’t say anything.

Jimmy Rabitte, band manager, uses this turn of phrase to convince his motley crowd of Dublin Irish musicians to form a soul band, although the phrase was later reimagined in the film as, “The Irish are the blacks of Europe” [emphasis mine]….

…Negga’s performance models an ideal vision of Irish belonging that does not erase the co-mingling of Irish pasts and presents with histories of other peoples. Negga forces the audience towards a contemporary engagement with a transnational Irish history that illuminates the history of a “global Irish” who have now come to the island of Ireland either as returned white Irish emigrants or as would-be citizens who share colonial and European histories with their new neighbors, despite racial and cultural differences. Negga, in an article fittingly entitled, “Ruth Negga, a star without a label,” observes: “For the moment, I don’t have to worry about people trying to fit me into a box. Up until now, there were no mixed-race roles in Ireland. It’s not like in the UK, where these roles do exist and then you are typecast from then on.”…

Charlotte McIvor is a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the production of Irish and Indian (Bengali) colonial and post-colonial nationalism and performance in their transnational and gendered contexts. McIvor’s dissertation is titled “Staging the ‘Global’ Irish: Transnational Genealogies in Irish Performance.” She is a graduate student instructor in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. She has directed several plays at UC Berkeley and in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,