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The Blacks

Jean Genet

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‘One evening,’ wrote Jean Genet in a prefatory note to The Blacks (1959), ‘an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast. But what exactly is a black? First of all, what’s his colour?’

Stereotyping, masking and clowning would be the tools with which Genet dissected settled ideas of race and identity in this, one of his most successful (and controversial) works for the stage.

‘In form, [The Blacks] flows as freely as an improvisation, with fantasy, allegory and intimations of reality mingled into a weird, stirring unity… Genet’s investigation of the color black begins where most plays of this burning theme leave off.’ New York Times


Jean Genet was born in Paris in 1910. An illegitimate child who never knew his parents, he was abandoned to the Public Assistance Authorities. He was ten when he was sent to a reformatory for stealing; thereafter he spent time in the prisons of nearly every country he visited in thirty years of prowling through the European underworld. With ten…

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