Nakkiah Lui, writer, Black is the New White

Sometimes making someone laugh breaks down their defences and engages them in a joyous way ...

The name Nakkiah Lui is popping up more and more in the Australian cultural landscape and it’s for good reason. Hailed as one of Australia’s best young writers, Nakkiah Lui boasts an exceptionally sharp mind when it comes to the written word. A Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman from Mount Druitt, Nakkiah’s voice has become a prominent one when it comes to the discussion of racial equality in Australia. Her works for the stage and screen – which include hits such as Black Comedy and Kiki and Kitty and prodctions with Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre – have not only helped bolster the prominence of these issues in popular culture, but have also helped raised the profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers and writers in Australian theatre. Nakkiah’s acclaimed stageplay Black is the New White earned rave reviews during its debut season with the Sydney Theatre Company, and now its Brisbane’s turn to catch the production when it arrives at QPAC in February. We caught up with Nakkiah to talk about her inspirations, her comedic chops and what we can expect from Black is the New White.

When it comes to writing, you’ve been hailed as one of Australia’s best young voices. What were some formative experiences that fostered your love of the written word?
My grandmother was an avid reader. I used to read stories and want to be part of them. Writing has always given me a sense of purpose. When people find value in your voice, that’s incredibly empowering.

Did you have any role models in writing or theatre that inspired you in the early days of your career?
Gary Foley, Bob Mazza, and the National Black Theatre, was and is still so inspiring to me to this date. They used theatre and entertainment to empower a community and change civil rights in this country. It’s probably the most important theatre in this country to date. The whole cannon of Black Theatre for me is like riding on the shoulder of giants. Two of the first plays I ever read as a 15-year old girl were The Seven Stages of Grieving (by Deb Mailman and Wesley Enoch) and Box the Pony (by Leah Purcell). I remember watching The Sapphires (by Tony Briggs) and crying from happiness – and now I get to work with Tony!

We’re very excited to check out Black is the New White when it arrives at QPAC. How did the story come about?
I was reading the census before the most recent one, and the Aboriginal community has the highest rates of interracial marriage. I started to ask my family their thoughts on love and race. I wanted to write a play for an Aboriginal family that didn’t come from a place of oppression or death. I wanted to talk about race and politics in a fun and joyous way. Also, I really love Christmas and wanted to write about that.

The production earned rave reviews during its debut season with the Sydney Theatre Company. What was some of feedback you received during the season that stuck with you?
What has meant the most to me is that I’ve had 15-year old male Aboriginal cousins who never go to the theatre tell me they love it for the same reasons that older, white women who go to the theatre all the time do. Race is usually treated as a taboo political issue, especially in the current divisive political climate, but the audience have really embraced the issues in the work. I think this because it’s rare  to be able to have a conversation – which is essentially what theatre is – in a way that is funny and inclusive.

What do you hope Brisbane audiences take away from the show?
I hope they have a fun, enjoyable night at the theatre. I hope they identify with the characters in the play – no matter what race, age or gender they are. As a writer, I think it’s  important to ask questions – I hope the audience walks away thinking (with a smile on their face).

You’ve got some undeniable chops for comedy, as evidenced by your work on Black Comedy. We hear Black is the New White boasts a fair amount of comedy as well – how do you approach the use of comedy to convey or bolster messages in your work?
Everybody laughs – no matter where you’re from. A sense of humour is such a personal thing yet it’s something we love to do together. Stories reflect on who we are and who we are becoming – sometimes making someone laugh breaks down their defences and engages them in a joyous way.

It’s early in the new year, what have you got planned for 2018?
I have my newest play Blackie Blackie Brown: The traditional Owner of Death premiering at Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre. I’m currently shooting season three of Black Comedy. I’m working on a new comedy series about an Aboriginal doomsday prepper. I’ll be doing season two of Pretty for an Aboriginal – a podcast I do with Miranda Tapsell for Buzzfeed. I’m working on my finalising my book, I Should Have Told You Before We Made Love (That I’m Black) and adapting my play Kill the Messenger for film. And hopefully I can write a new play and do some more projects as well.  

What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
My grandmother told me two things that I think about every day;

  1. What can you do if you can’t laugh?
  2. If you’re gonna poke it, fuck it.

What keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?
I love it. I get to do what I love everyday – that’s a privilege.

Black is the New White will be staged at QPAC’s Playhouse from February 1–17. Those aged 30 and under can get discounted tickets if they act now. Head to the QPAC website to purchase.


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