Sarah Schulman: The writer Rent ripped off.

Interviews with a point.
Nov. 23 2005 12:21 PM

Sarah Schulman

The lesbian writer Rent ripped off.

(Continued from Page 1)

Schulman: That's a retrograde point of view. In a time when people denied the existence of gays and lesbians, work that asserted that gays and lesbians existed with some minimum of human integrity could be coded as progressive. But since the AIDS crisis, most Americans personally know people who are openly gay. At this point, to simply represent or acknowledge that gay people exist is no longer inherently progressive, and to depict gay people as people who have no agency is retrogressive.

Slate: You've also claimed, in reference to three of the characters from Rent, that it's inaccurate to show an upper-middle-class Ivy-League-educated African-American lesbian "having no difference in perspective or reality" than a white heterosexual male or a Puerto Rican HIV-positive homeless gay man. Isn't it positive to show people from different communities and backgrounds working and playing together without barriers?

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Schulman: One of the consequences of our advertising culture is that we market a false equality that is not reflected in the economic or legal reality for most people today. In this historic moment, the lack of legal equality for gays and lesbians, for example, is starker than it was 25 years ago. Then, to be anti-gay was to be normative in an environment of silence. Today it is a proactive choice that requires a lot more malice and cruelty. Yet those forces are not only powerful, they're dominant. Let's not forget that political systems reflect attitudes. To look at a moment in which gay people do not have rights and to say that attitudes have changed is a contradiction. The reason we don't have rights is because of attitudes.

Slate: In Stagestruck you mention that one of the journalists you spoke to warned you that if you kept pursuing your charge of plagiarism, you'd be blacklisted in the theater world. That was 10-15 years ago. … Has it happened?

Schulman: We're sitting here two doors down from my show [ Manic Flight Reaction] that's about to open at Playwrights Horizons tonight. So, I guess not.

In a country in which there's no lesbian play in the repertoire—which is the case—to tell me that I'm going to be blacklisted is not really much of a threat. Because the only way to overturn the status quo and allow this work be seen is to fight like hell. If you sit back, it's blacklist accompli.