By Chuk Obasi
An inevitable question that came up when I first approached this role - would it feel authentic?
Well, ever since I began playing Sam, I’ve wondered from time to time how the story would be different if I had lived a similar experience with my wife and written about it. Of course, it would be a different story because I'm a different person. But I sometimes wonder how it would be different in regard to my race - being a black man. Would there be differences stemming from “the Black American experience?” What would I need to add to the script---a love story--that has to do with me being black? I reflect on my own marriage to answer this question and find that in comparing experiences in Sam's story to similar experiences in mine, my race might in fact become a significant part of my dramatized “dance.”
Like if I were writing about my (sort of) first date with my wife. I'd want to mention that we met up at a dance club where I was frequently and at times overtly racially profiled, but went to anyway because I was used to it and still had fun. I'd want to reference a key part of this first date; when a bouncer approached us to make sure I wasn't an unsolicited stranger harassing my future wife, who is white.
Or if I were referencing our families’ initial reactions once we made our relationship “family official.” I wouldn’t need to go deep into that, but I would want to write about the acknowledgement of relatively uncharted territory we were entering with our difference in age, religion, economic standing, and yes, race. These differences were lost on nobody in our families, whether they spoke about it out loud or not.
Or if I were writing about my bi-racial kids and my fears concerning the scenario of them growing up without one of their parents. Among my anxieties would be the worry of them losing representation of half of their racial identity in the household. This would be very important to my story because my sons are in fact very aware of their physical attributes compared to those around them and already keen on exploring these differences. There's already an awareness of implicit value that society places on skin complexions, particularly noticed by my older son, who is six years old. My wife and I are the key figures in guiding their exploration of how they will ultimately value themselves as fully aware beings. I would want to write about my anxiety relating to their possible development without a parent, including this aspect of it.
And the music would be different. This wouldn't necessarily pertain to my Blackness, but it might be perceived that way. Jenny and I love all kinds of music, and we don't have “a song” in the way that Sam and Susan’s song is “Unchained Melody.” But if we did have a song, or if I had to choose one for my script, there's a good chance it would be an R&B song. There's a good chance it would be John Legend - we love him. Yeah, I think we’d dance a slow dance to John Legend in our “ballroom.” Again, this wouldn't speak solely to the Black American experience, but it would just happen to be the music of a black musician rooted in a black-dominated music genre. Nobody in any audience would be surprised by my taste in music.
Does this mean that my portrayal of Sam Simon is inauthentic, being that I'm telling his story as he lived it (for the most part)? Absolutely not. I say this for two reasons: 1) Nothing in Sam’s story as I tell it is exclusive to the white American experience, and in fact people of all races, cultures and nationalities actually could identify with Sam, and 2) It is not necessary to identify with every nuance of someone's story anyhow. Love, fear, confusion, hope, support and strength are universal dances. Not to mention cancer affects us all, directly or indirectly. I’m able to channel this when I embody Sam, and I think audiences see that.
I appreciate this experience of human commonality. Sam’s dance is a common journey, and as it allows me to identify the unique nature of what my own version would be, thus allowing me to say that there is such thing as the Black American experience, it simultaneously reaches my heart in a way that allows me to also say that there is such thing as the Human experience.
I will play Sam next on April 7 in Montclair, NJ. I invite you to experience for yourself.