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Recognizing Reification

Picture of Keenan ShionalynCentral Washington University Theatre Arts graduate student Keenan Shionalyn will receive the 2021 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival award for Region 7 Graduate Paper. Keenan’s paper “Subversion and Reification of Mixed Race and Queer Tropes: The Triumphs and Downfalls of Lovecraft Country” was the Region 7 graduate paper winner for 2021.  
     “I am honored to receive the 2021 Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region VII scholarly paper award in the Graduate Student category,” said Shionalyn. “As I accept this award, I owe thanks and gratitude to my faculty advisor Dr. Natashia Lindsey, who inspired this paper and strengthened my research with thoughtful feedback and encouragement. As we grapple and contend with historical mistakes, privilege, and a path forward, we must also address how the arts portray racial and gender identities. Through analysis of narratives and portrayals seen on stage and screen, I hope we can move towards creating art that educates and inspires a world that does not repeat the mistakes of the past and encourages audiences to grapple with their own placement within systems of oppression. I am honored that my work is receiving recognition. I hope it reminds of the importance of anti-racist work in all fields and encourages further research within performance and theatre.”
     Shionalyn’s paper explores how the writers of the television series Lovecraft Country give form to the concepts of mixed race and queer tropes.  “Lovecraft Country, a science fiction and horror series on HBO created by Misha Green and other prominent producers such as JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele, centers depiction of racial disparities while exploring Lovecraftian themes. Based on the novel by Matt Huff, this series attempts to reclaim horror and science fiction as genres not limited by race and remove white supremacist attitudes present in many founding works.
     Ruby's placement as a hybrid continues," writes Shionalyn. "Where she painfully sheds [Hillary’s] white skin, revealing Ruby bloodied from the experience. Both William and Ruby process where she exclaims, 'When I was stumbling down the street, crazed and disheveled, they weren’t scared of me. They were scared for me. They all treated me like…' William interrupts with, 'a human being.' It is at this moment that the purpose of the interracial trope becomes clear. The writers here utilized the symbolism of William’s blood ingestion and Ruby passing to examine racial trope." Shionalyn continues "Within her white or passing body, she remained Ruby with all of her experience as a black individual, thereby representing mixed race experience not as trope or fear of mixing blood, but as a real lived experience within both worlds."
     "Christina has been throughout the season a hybrid, not along racial lines, but gender. Even as William, she was both man and woman. This hybridity not only complicates the relationship with Ruby but also begs for a queer reading. Even as William, it was Christina who engaged intimately with Ruby or Hillary, only in the body of a man. Confirming her hybrid nature, Christina states to Ruby, 'I could be so much more . . . The words may have come out of William’s mouth, but they were mine.' This hybridity of bodies is not a negotiation but a blending," explaines Shionalyn. "Christina remains the only hybrid, having experienced male, female, white, and now black. She has gained from black people their knowledge and experience and now uses it for her gain. I cannot help but compare this to white academics such as Jessica Krug, gaining all the benefit of existing within the white world and inhabiting the black world at will.”
     Shionalyn will accept his award from the Kennesy Center American College Festival on February 20th.

Media Contact: Kindra Martin, College of Arts and Humanities administrative assistant

Published: 2/19/2021

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