Black man trying to make his show into a film.
Brian Copeland created “Not a Genuine Black Man” in 2004 at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District where it went on to become the longest running solo show in San Francisco theater history. The show has had over 700 performances in over 30 cities including Los Angeles and Off Broadway.
In 1972 Brian Copeland’s single mother moved her African American family – four children and her mother to a white suburb (San Leandro, California) to escape domestic violence and gain access to opportunities.
What Carolyn Copeland didn’t know was that San Leandro, which borders Oakland to the south, had gained a national reputation as a racist enclave. The National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing called San Leandro “a racist bastion of white supremacy”. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held hearings to determine why the city was 99.99% white (according to the 1970 census) and neighboring Oakland had a 50% Black population. A nationally aired 1971 documentary called The Suburban Wall highlighted the problem.
In this two-hour tale of laughter, tears and sociology, Copeland plays over 20 characters, including himself, himself as an 8-year-old, his mother, his sister, his grandmother, his son, his father, his landlord, 3 policemen, 2 lawyers, his father, a waitress, a pastor of an all-white church, a hate-letter writer, two white teenaged racists and several irate neighbors. The narrative transports the audience in time, flashing back and forth between his childhood and his current status as a successful performer, family man and businessman.
Humor, sometimes uncomfortable, provides relief for the genuinely tragic moments. “The show has range, turning corners abruptly, humor and success sharply juxtaposed with failure and depression. He is a talented comedian but this is not two hours of stand up. The man has a lived sense of the tragic.” (SF Enquirer, 2004)
Known for his standup comedy, radio show on KGO and television programs, Copeland has written a book detailing the experiences portrayed in “Not a Genuine Black Man.” The book is required reading in numerous high school and college classrooms across the country and a curriculum was developed by teachers in the San Jose Unified School District.