A playwright known for pushing buttons has done just that with “Thomas and Sally.” The stage production that debuted at San Francisco’s Marin Theatre Company in September centers on the relationship between former president and slave owner Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his slave.
While some claim the two were in love, the truth is, rape and sexual assault were rampant throughout slavery and that’s the issue for which social media users have with MTC and playwright Thomas Bradshaw.
“Thomas and Sally,” which has been extended through Oct. 29, explores the relationship between the president (who owned 607 slaves) and a teenaged Hemings the way two present-day college students picture it.
“Thomas and Sally is a work of historical fiction,” Bradshaw, who is Black, said in the play description on MTC’s website. “You may recognize many of the names in this play, but others are pure invention. History is highly malleable and subject to interpretation. This is my attempt to explore the essence of these characters and the world they lived in. This is a play, and I am playing with history. I hope you enjoy.”
But folks are not enjoying the play — and they’re making it known. Black activist Nolan Hack launched the #EndItNow social media push in September.
Ever since then, the hashtag has burst onto Twitter and Facebook.
— #EndItNow (@NolanHack) October 1, 2017
Sally was a child. Thomas was a slaveowner, a rapist, a pedophile and an enactor of genocide.
— #EndItNow (@NolanHack) September 26, 2017
Thomas Jefferson the Slave Master
— ann marie (@annmarie309) October 9, 2017
this is NOT okay. fuck the Marin Theatre Company…seriously, who thought this was a good idea? if you have other forms…
Despite the backlash, Bradshaw said earlier that he’s not telling the audience what to think of the play, which came to be after a meeting with theatre artistic director Jasson Minadakis 5 years ago.
“I don’t send the audience away with a clear message that they’re supposed to have learned from the play,” Bradshaw told the San Francisco Chronicle StoryStudio in September. “Instead, I place it in the lap of the audience to decide what they want to derive from the play. Art must leave room for audience interpretation. Otherwise, it’s propaganda.”
Atlanta Black Star has reached out to Marin Theatre Company, Thomas Bradshaw and Nolan Hack for comment.
Hack responded to Bradshaw’s statement that “Thomas and Sally” is “historical fiction,” slamming Jefferson’s repeated rape of Hemings, which resulted in her giving birth to six of his children.
“Bradshaw wants to improve his wallet,” Hack said in part. “The theatre and actors have said the play is true to life and in places that it’s not … they say ‘Well we don’t know so that’s where we could take liberties.’ … [Thomas Jefferson] was one of the worst people to ever live.”