Updated: Apr 17, 2021
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, and though not American, my, shall we say, marrying, that country, anyone with a partner of a different country's origin knows what I mean, thus, with family there, it means I share in it's ways to some important extent. Things to be grateful for or glad about.
It is the work I am developing, and what it means, which then gets me thinking about, this Forum, what it means and how , as I promote it, and let people know about it, so too I see it is not known enough, and the work Igor Ustinov, Anthony Bazbaz and others have done and yet do, and we who share in it, is not appreciated as much as it should be.
So too the understanding of the legacy of Sir Peter Ustinov, whose career as a great entertainer means that work, his best loved, does last, but so too must his humanitarian effort, too.
This must be said of the woman I have spent much time with in recent times, metephorically speaking, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the great abolitionist , an anti slavery campaigner , whose work, I am writing a musical based on. It should be said ,so huge was her effort to combat the obscenity of slavery , with her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, that Abraham Lincoln said , when he met her during the American Civil War, "So this is the little lady who started this big war!"
And yet , if Sir Peter is best known, as an entertainer,a wonderful description in many ways and the most appropriate for he entertained even as a UNICEF ambassador, Harriet Beecher Stowe is thought of as the creator of a stereotype, "Uncle " Tom! Yet Tom, the slave in her book, was a hero, a figure, like Jesus or Gandhi, not a cowering or grovelling character, but one who sacrificed for his belief in goodness and consideration for his fellow slaves. The divisions and divide itself so present even as we see today, particularly in the US, stem from this period in so many ways. The prejudice now has extended to a book, misinterpreted by racists and misunderstood by progressives. It leads to a mis-characterisation of a leading character in literature and a leading creator of literature.
And it makes for a realisation that cultural work , is not nearly , as it should be , when significant, valued enough, or if it is is seen in monetary success, just as that book was successful in this way, so too it is not seen as a success, now , or over many years, by some in it's legacy.For years minstrel shows provided caricatures, destroying a central character who was heroic , reducing him to a mockery far more than a man. But the balance is being redressed. Women, scholars, readers , writers all, have for some years reclaimed Stowe, feminism, dealing with the misdeeds of racism, and misunderstandings of prejudice. The very essence of the work of Sir Peter Ustinov, we celebrate and adhere to herein.
Can we change anything today in a very different cultural landscape to that of Harriet Beecher Stowe, through culture? Is it possible that we, those of us who admit to a bias , but not a prejudice, in favour of the work of Sir Peter Ustinov against prejudice, and in trying to marry cultural with social causes, succeed? We can try.
I am trying to deal with this prejudice and be faithful to the spirit of the intention of that great author in defeating the prejudice she wanted to defeat. The musical I am creating, "Tom's Cabin-The Man of Humanity,"has great potential to attempt this with culture. I think it may interest colleagues, readers, here.
One of the songs I have written for this show, is inspired by Sir Peter Ustinov, who was the first person I heard use the phrase, "Ubuntu, or I am because you are ." In the musical it is the main character, Tom, who I represent, thus, as an African American man, aware of his origins and who uses the phrase. It refers to an often spoken, and hard to translate in language, but well understood in meaning, in Southern Africa, sense of reaching out to, and sharing in our, humanity.
Author : LORENZO CHERIN