An Octoroon Final Thoughts

Branden Jenkins approach to An Octoroon was very unique. It is clear that he was inspired by Boucicault, but also challenge him as a playwright. Although it was not explicitly said, I saw the adaptation as professional competition. In addition, I saw Jenkins inclusion of Boucicault in the play as a tribute towards him. While the modern world may have overlooked him, Jenkins clearly admired Boucicault’s work and appreciated that he highlighted very real issues in a time where it was abnormal. With that being said, the competition was found in Jenkins attempt to challenge some of the representations that were in the original.

In discussion we talked about authenticity, and with An Octoroon, Jenkins clearly challenges that. From his casting to his dialogue, whether it was because of want or necessity,  he intentionally distinguished his work from the original. For example, Jenkins disagreed with the typical portrayal of slaves in theater. We don’t know how slaves actually talked. If anything, it was most likely far from the depiction presented through minstrelsy. Ultimately minstrelsy was an art form that valued the art over accuracy, therefore, the imitation didn’t need to be accurate. While Boucicault created his characters based on observations, he was still an artist that was intrigued with the art form.

With that being said, although Boucicault was alive during slavery, his depiction of slavery is not anymore authentic than Jenkins. Boucicault was an Irishmen who never experienced slavery. Likewise, Jenkins was black, but he too never experienced slavery. Jenkins’ comedic approach versus Boucicault’s observational approach are both acceptable in the world of minstrelsy. Minstrelsy was a form of entertainment that imitated black people. And imitations are not authentic.