'Bronx Gothic' Explores The Pain and Pleasure of Girlhood

Jan 11, 2018

First produced a couple of years ago, Okwui Okpokwasili’s one-woman show Bronx Gothic is a take on "growing up as a brown girl in the Bronx." It takes on topics like identity, self esteem, sexual knowledge, and how it can be difficult for girls to navigate these milestones.

Her show was made into a documentary of the same name, which showed at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival.

In the show, Okpokwasili gyrates, sweats, moves, sings, and reads narrative that shifts back and forth from an adult voice to that of an 11-year-old. 

"I've always been really interested in how to write yourself into a kind of visibility," Okpokwasili says. "Whatever feelings I had about disappearing or feeling that the dynamic world that I lived in wasn't reflected in the larger culture, I thought well, I'm going to write that into being."

In part of the show, the 11-year old girl communicates by letter with another girl about sex, and the second girl has substantially more knowledge, hinting at maybe she has been abused.  

"These girls are kind of a composite of many people that maybe reside in one person, but that's a lot of information to know," she says. "As I got older I did find out about other girls that had been abused. It was something that people were becoming public with more."

Ultimately, says Okpokwasili, one of the goals of Bronx Gothic is exposure, to take off the shroud on both the pain that girls, and even grown people can go through, but also to expose the idea that sexuality is not something shameful.

"I admired the sense that, if there's something that gives you pleasure...why do we have to relegate that knowledge and understanding of ourselves, that awakening, why do we have to hide in the shadows with this desire, why can't somebody talk us through it?" she says. 

And as to being a black or brown girl in the United States, "I just feel that there's a shift," she says. "When I was growing up, to look for things that might speak to a Bronx experience or an African experience, I felt like you really had to dig deeply in a way that maybe as an elementary student I wasn't aware of and didn't know how to do."

"It does seem like now there is more out there: the internet, YouTube, social media...There are are so many more ways of looking at blackness now that are right in front of you," she assesses.