Why Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins restaged the 19th-century slavery play The Octoroon

Playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins talks to host Tom Power about why he is restaging Dion Boucicault's controversial 1859 play, The Octoroon.
Playwright and MacArthur Fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, pictured in New York on September 6, 2016 (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

Unless you happen to be a theatre scholar, you probably won't recognize the name Dion Boucicault.

He was a 19th-century dramatist famous in his time but whose plays have since faded into obscurity.

One of his best-known and most controversial plays was The Octoroon — an octoroon being a person who is one-eighth black. The story follows the history of slavery in the pre-Civil War American South and it made waves for what audiences then saw as a sympathetic and human portrayal of slaves.

But today, most people consider it problematic and full of negative stereotypes about African Americans.

A re-interpretation of the play is creating all kinds of buzz this year at one of Canada's most prestigious theatre festivals. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' play is called An Octoroon and is currently being staged at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Jacobs-Jenkins talks to Tom Power about the play's history and present-day relevance as well as the controversy around the current production.

— Produced by Vanessa Nigro


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.