As was recently noted right here on Flavorwire.com, six documentary films and TV specials examining the aftermath of the brutal beating of Rodney King were just released, timed to the 25th anniversary of the 1992 L.A. riots. One was made by Spike Lee; another, by John Ridley. One of those films was not, however, by Donald Trump’s advisor in all things white nationalist, Steve Bannon. In fact, the last person whose opinion about the L.A. riots that anyone who remotely cares about social justice — or film, for that matter — would want hear is probably Steve fucking Bannon.
But, as Daniel Pollack-Pelzner divulged last December in the New York Times, Bannon actually did have something to say about this violently tense moment in Los Angeles history — and he said it in the form of a screenplay for a hip-hop musical based on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. That film — shocker — never got made. However, NowThis recently got ahold of the screenplay, The Thing I Am, in its entirety, and put on a reading of it, which was then published by the Washington Post. It is — another shocker — utterly weird, particularly in its pairing of Bannon’s approximations of florid Shakespearean language and gangsta speech — replete with n-bombs, f-bombs, and “bitch, please”s.
When I was in elementary school, I participated in a kid-friendly adaptation of West Side Story, in which I had to sing a Barbara Streisand song to two groups of tensely competitive surfers. Bannon’s script, I’d say, is slightly less good than that.
Interestingly, Bannon and his co-author, Julia Jones, had attempted to sell the story as an exploration of “how the culture of greed, elitism, discrimination and inhumanity repeats itself today in a self-defeating replay of atrocities.” (It was Jones who provided a copy of the script to NowThis.) Like many who seek to stretch Shakespeare to fit specific, contemporary political climates, Bannon applied the plot of the rarely performed Coriolanus — about the clash between the Romans and Vorsicans — to early ’90s L.A., seen as a war zone between the Bloods and the Cripps. Some examples of the dialogue:
“You call him noble that was once your enemy, then dis your king.”
“They hang out shooting pool and think they know what’s going down. Who’s out, who bounds, and if there’s crack enough.”
“Abandon hope all ye who fuck with her.”
The script is also filled with ridiculous descriptions meant to sound edgy in their anachronism, like, “Agrippa rides up to the entrance. Two Cripp guards stand watch.”
The Post writes, “Coriolanus’ rise and downfall in The Thing I Am present him as someone who could stop the violence in his own community but is temperamentally incapable of making the compromises and taking the strong stands necessary to do so.” The paper equates these strong stands with threats like Trump’s own warnings to black communities with high crime rates — his Tweeted threats to send the National Guard into Chicago, for instance.
Williams, one of a few select actors interviewed for the Post article, said of Bannon’s take on early ’90s L.A., “I think Steve Bannon thought he had figured out black people, much in the way of Trump: ‘Carnage! Chicago is carnage! … American carnage! That I have the answer. That if you could listen to me, this can fix that.’”
If you have 20 minutes, it’s certainly worth a watch — beyond its relevance to Bannon’s current political life, this is also simply the unearthing of an embarrassingly bad piece of writing. Since it’s being read by a group of actors who mostly work in comedy, it also happens to be very funny. NowThis recruited a huge cast: Gary Anthony Williams (who plays Coriolanus), Reno 911!’s Cedric Yarborough, Whose Line…? recurring cast-member Nyima Funk, Jordan Black, MadTV‘s Daniele Gaither, John Henson, Danny Zuker, Ishmel Sahid, Tawny Newsome, AJ Crew, Ellie Rose Boswell, Ify Nwadiwe, Kate Berlant (who spoke with Flavorwire about politicized comedy not too long ago), Parvesh Cheena, Morgan Evans, Charlie Carver, Lucas Neff, and former Daily Show correspondent Robert William Corddry. Some key moments:
And, finally, the full video:
If this somehow leaves you hungry for more adaptations of classic theater about gang violence in contemporary American cities, there’s always Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, which, you know, actually got made.