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Arts: Visual and Performing

Michael Evenden
Theatre and Dance
All God’s Chillun Got Wings

In the spring of 1924, Eugene O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings rehearsed at the Provincetown Playhouse in Massachusetts, —and its concluding image (a white woman kissing the hand of a black man) prompted a national furor, with Hearst’s New York American publishing sensationalist headlines, New York Mayor John F. Hyland attempting legal intervention, and the Ku Klux Klan sending death threats. Although now largely forgotten, it was one of the most famous explosions of controversy around any theater event in US history.

While the traditional account sees this cultural skirmish as no more than an obvious instance of institutional racism, the issues are actually multiple. I contend that a fuller account of the event, unpacking the timeline and language of the various attacks, would point equally to the nation’s phantasmagoric fears of sexual and political unorthodoxy, represented by the Provincetown Players themselves. Having demonstrated the cultural coupling of racial transgression with sexual unconventionality and political radicalism in the 1920s, I want to examine Provincetown's modern identity as a Bohemian city, asking where radicalism goes when faced with overwhelmingly white affluence. To this end I propose to write an article unpacking the historical event, and to create a short documentary film recounting the past and looking to the American present.