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Our business is non-fiction: L.A. Theater Works radio does Huey P. Newton

Roger Guenveur Smith

Roger Guenveur Smith;

“Testing one two . . . testing one two,” the disembodied voice of Huey P. Newton nervously declares. “Comrade, is this thing on, is working?”

“It’s working good,” his assistant says.

“All right, all right,” Newton responds, “because I’m terrified of cameras and large crowds . . . I’m actually rather shy in the visual. I wouldn’t consider myself to be charismatic. I never really did anything hero-like. I just worked on some little community programs.”

The audience laughs a little. So begins the L.A. Theater Works radio version of actor Roger Guenveur Smith‘s Obie award winning play: A Huey P. Newton Story. The show is now available as an mp3 download or podcast. If you haven’t heard it, you should. It’s quite something.

“I do have a role to play, however,” Smith-as-Newton continues. “I’m a theorist of sorts. That means I work on theories. But I really do not enjoy discussing the details of my personal life except as it relates to the movement. I hate interviews; tape recorders; microphones; stuck up in my face.”

Newton speaks quickly. The sentences almost jam into each other.

“Tell you the truth, people, I hate stages. They put you up on a stage and they expect you to entertain them. I keep trying to tell them I’m not an entertainer. . . . ”

“I’ll tell you a funny story though, and then I’m getting out of here. The day I came out of prison was a hot sunny day; the sun was shining; so, you know, I took my shirt off. A lot of people wanted to read like a grand gesture on my part into that, like it was significant, but really it was just ah, a simple move. I’d been in solitary confinement for three years. The sun was shining. Felt good. So I took my shirt off.”

“And then shortly thereafter I received in the mail a brochure from some Hollywood outfit and they had some clippings in there of my picture with my shirt off and they had a little letter attached to the clippings . . . and the letter from the Hollywood studio said something to the effect of ‘Dear Mr. Newton: We feel that you have star quality’.”

The audience laughs again.

“Something like that. I thought it was funny,” Newton continues. “Is it funny? But ah, these Hollywood studios are a trip, aren’t they? Because they’re in the business of creating fiction. But we in the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense are in the business of creating non-fiction. Know what I’m saying?”

Part One of A Huey P. Newton story here; Part Two here; sound design by Marc Anthony Thompson; interview with Roger Guenveur Smith here.

“My show was stimulated by my own ignorance,” Smith explains. “When Huey P. Newton was murdered in front of a crackhouse in Oakland in 1989, I didn’t know that much about him. . . . “

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