Students play judge and jury in ‘Defamation’ play
Nearly 100 FGCU students filled the Cohen Center ballroom Monday night to watch Defamation The Play, which was hosted by the Office of Multicultural and Leadership Development.
Unlike other productions students may have attended in the past, this one asked them to play a critical role in the play’s ending — as the acting jury in the courtroom drama.
“I do a lot of trainings on campus about oppression, privilege and microagressions, and Defamation came about because I was trying to figure out how to have another voice, another forum, to talk about these things,” said Dyonne Bergeron, the director of MLD.
Defamation The Play has been seen by more than 50,000 people in more than 300 performances nationwide over the last seven years. Bergeron saw the play two years prior, and not too far into her move to FGCU soon after, she said she realized Defamation would perfectly fit the FGCU climate.
The case the audience was tasked with judging was centered on Regina Wade, a black woman who was suing Arthur Golden, a white Jewish man, for alleged defamation. To win her case, she would have to convince the jury that a false statement was made to a third party about her as well as prove that she was directly damaged financially as a result.
Golden, the defendant, alleged that Wade had stolen his watch, a family heirloom, while he took a phone call in the other room during their initial in-person meeting. Wade, who owned a graphic design company, was at Golden’s home after being asked by the attorney on her largest account to do some pro bono work for a friend of the attorney — Golden.
The crowd, which was made up of mainly minority students, took in a sharp breath each time Wade called herself the n-word to assert her point that Golden’s claims were racist. They also collectively sighed at the line, “Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist now!”
“Ain’t that the truth,” a girl toward the front said to her friend.
“Especially now,” her friend responded — everyone in hearing range shaking their heads about the dated line.
There was no solid proof offered during the play that Wade did steal the watch. Golden did not see the crime occur. The watch was never found.
Based on the testimonies of both parties as well as that of the aforementioned attorney, those in attendance were left with the task of convicting or exonerating Golden for the crime of defamation.
Due to the racial, religious and gender undertones throughout the play, Defamation, which calls itself an “experience” on its website, that aims to pull the audience into “sometimes tense” but — as managing producer and actor Kimm Beavers asserted — “necessary” discussions by the end of the production.
“I think it gives people a different perspective on how individuals are feeling and what roles they play in the world, and hopefully, it opened everyone’s eyes about the space people are living in,” Bergeron said, “and you know, not to change your view on how you live or to be manipulated but just to understand and empathize with individuals and their perceptions and their reality but not to feel guilty because we’re all guilty of something.”
The students were led by two jury forepersons to speed up the tallying of the large audience’s votes. The initial vote saw Golden with 10 votes and Wade with 45 while the remaining 38 were undecided.
Beavers led the following discussion, in which students opened up about why they voted the way they had. By the end, the votes came back in with 9 for Golden and 84 for Wade, who thus won the case.
One white man in the audience got the most snaps and “mhmms” from the crowd when he countered another white audience member’s statement that the issue of social justice can be solved if humans just learned to love each other better.
“It’s not that simple,” he began — the microphone bouncing in his shaking hand. “We can’t solve it in one generation. Like, there we go. Racism’s over. Everybody, go home. That’s not how we’re going to be make meaningful change.”
Beavers asked the students how then they would suggest going about solving the issue.
“By having more talks like this,” multiple members of the audience cried out at once.