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The Castillo Theatre is proud to announce the revival of the 1991 play by Fred Newman, Billie, Malcolm & Yusuf, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Yusuf Hawkins’ murder in 1989. The production will be directed by award-winning director, Gabrielle Kurlander.

The opening of Billie, Malcolm & Yusuf finds Billie Holiday, Malcolm X and Yusuf (a character inspired by Yusuf Hawkins) in heaven, where their comfortable conversation is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Emmy Straight, sacrilegious Black comedienne, recently shot dead by a white fascist in a comedy club in Cleveland. Employing comedic farce, historical tragedy, radical rap and classic blues, the play challenges conceptions of God, beloved African American icons and difference.

This is a personal play for playwright Fred Newman, a longtime community organizer and a leader of the 1989-1990 marches that drew thousands of people to Bensonhurst for over a year to protest the racist killing of Yusuf Hawkins by a mob of white teenagers.

Background

On the evening of August 23, 1989, 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and three friends got off the subway in Bensonhurst (then a primarily Italian-American working-class neighborhood) responding to a classified ad for a used car for sale. They were immediately set upon by a mob of white youths, many wielding baseball bats. One, armed with a handgun, shot Hawkins twice in the chest, killing him. Hawkins’ death was the third murder of a black man by white mobs in New York City in the 1980s. Willie Turks (murdered in 1982) and Michael Griffith (murdered in 1986) were also killed for being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

Yusuf’s death set off a movement led by the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Movement in alliance with the multiracial New Alliance Party led by Drs. Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman. Beginning in 1989, every Saturday for over a year, hundreds of multiracial demonstrators, pelted with watermelons, vile racial slurs and spat upon, marched through the streets of Bensonhurst demanding justice for Yusuf and for an end to racial violence in the city.

These persistent demonstrations and the climate for change they created, helped propel the election of David Dinkins, New York’s first, and only African American mayor. It helped generate a movement, in both Black and white communities, against racial violence and inequality, which has had an ongoing impact on New York City politics and culture.

This Castillo Theatre production of Billie, Malcolm & Yusuf will kick off a year of commemorating the legacy of Yusuf Hawkins at the All Stars Project’s West 42nd St. performing arts and development center. In addition to the play, the All Stars Project will sponsor a series of cultural events, youth performances, public conversations and outreach activities about the history and legacy of Yusuf’s movement.


In addition, later this year, HBO will release a new documentary, Storm Over Brooklyn by Muta’Ali, in honor of the 30th anniversary of Hawkins’ murder. For Storm Over Brooklyn Muta’Ali has interviewed Dr. Lenora Fulani and other leaders of Yusuf’s movement.

Biographies

Gabrielle L. Kurlander (director) has directed eight plays by Fred Newman at the Castillo Theatre since 1998, as well as four by German avant-gardist Heiner Müller. In 2011, the Castillo Theatre won the Vivian Robinson AUDELCO Award for Excellence in Black Theatre Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance for Kurlander’s production of Playing with Heiner Müller. The following year, her musical production of Newman and Annie Roboff’s Sally and Tom (The American Way) won five AUDELCO awards, including Best Director of a Musical Production and Best Musical Production of the Year. In 2014, Kurlander directed Clare Coss’ play Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington, starring Kathleen Chalfant and Timothy Simonson; and in 2016 Newman and Jackie Salit’s musical play Votes, about a woman running for president.
Kurlander began her professional theater career as an actor in the national touring company of Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues. She joined the Castillo Theatre in 1987, and has since performed in 35 productions. Kurlander is the president and CEO of the All Stars Project, Inc. (ASP), a national nonprofit organization that uses the developmental power performance to transform the lives of youth and poor communities, in partnership with caring adults.

Fred Newman (playwright, 1935-2011) was the resident playwright of the Castillo Theatre and served as its artistic director from 1989 until his retirement in 2005. He wrote 44 plays and musicals. In addition, Newman was America’s leading director of the work of the German post- dramatic playwright Heiner Müller, and also directed plays by Bertolt Brecht, Aimé Césaire, Yosef Mundy and Peter Weiss. In 2002, he wrote and directed the award-winning independent film Nothing Really Happens (Memories of Aging Strippers). In addition to his theatrical work, Newman was an independent political pioneer, a social therapist and a Stanford University- trained philosopher and teacher. He co-founded the All Stars Project with Dr. Lenora Fulani.