My whole life I looked up to you. Every morning before I went to school, every afternoon when I came back–– even late at night I always turned on the TV to see what you had to say to me. You was like a dad to me. You were the dad I made up in mind. You told me that I was smart; that I could do anything I put my mind to, that I could follow my dreams and go to college and be successful and maybe one day I could make it out of Philly and live in a brownstone somewhere. I looked up to you. Out of all things…what’s gonna happen now? You’re just gonna leave like nothing ever happened? What’s gonna happen to all the people who watched your show?
It wasn’t me…
And now you’re lying about it? You’re not supposed to be a liar.
I’m just a character on TV, Kwamaine–––
NO! NO! YOU’RE MORE THAN THAT! You’re everyone’s wildest dream. There are so many others who don’t have fathers, or mothers, or family to love them and we all looked to you for that and you fucked it up! YOU FUCKED IT UP! Who am I supposed to look up to now? The whole time you’ve been a…..a…. That’s why you’re getting fired?! Me and Jalil didn’t do anything wrong, it’s you!
-LEFTOVERS, By Josh Wilder
In Act two of Leftovers, Both Kwamaine and Jalil are forced to reckon with the ugly parts of their icons–Cliff Huxtable for Kwamaine, and Chris for Jalil. Kwamaine’s journey of wrapping his head around the Cosby rape allegations as it intersects with Cliff Huxtable the character, is also one that the Black Community has been going through since 2014 when the allegations began. In an interview with dramaturg Tatiana Isabel, playwright Josh Wilder talks about how he personally intersects with it all:
TATIANA: You’re really interested in investigating personal relationships to icons, how does that manifest here?
JOSH: I think when the curtain closes and you walk out of the theater, I hope that people start to reexamine the icons in their life, and I hope that people are able to forgive somebody that they hold some resentment towards. I want them to walk away going “Damn, yes The Cosby Show was an iconic thing in my life but I have to move on. I have to learn how to accept people for who they are and deal with it.” I want them to walk away like, “I want a hug. I want to hug somebody else.” I want people to think about, “How can I make my wishes come true on my own?”
Look, I can’t control if people think about Bill Cosby or not. But what I would like people to think about in addition to Bill Cosby is their parents, and their relationship to their parents. Because our mothers and fathers or whoever, your parent, is our first icon. The first icon is the people that made you. Or your first icon is those who have raised you from a young age. They’re our super heroes. They keep us safe. You know what I mean? But what happens when you find out that your parent has an abuse problem? Do they stop being your parent? How do you deal with that? I want people to walk out asking themselves: “What it means for me to forgive? What is my process of forgiveness? How can forgiving make my life a little bit better?
TATIANA: Can you talk a little bit about how Bill Cosby’s Conviction influenced the play’s development process?
JOSH: For me, there’s a lot of history of a lot of young Black families looking up to Cliff Huxtable as their dad. Cosby is an iconic BLACK American who gave a lot of black Americans opportunity. This person was low key the president or the mayor or something of Black America. He was really really really important to Black Americans and to all Americans really, but specifically Black Americans. And to see that just crumble in front of our faces was hard to watch, and it was hard to write about. But I had to do it because I just felt like it was time. As a Black American, you know, talking about molestation, talking about sexual abuse, is something that’s very hush hush. We don’t want to talk about it. We know it, we KNOW, but we don’t want to talk about it. We’d rather just put it to the side, and not even go there. And I think seeing that happen to Cosby was like, “Oh shit. I as a Black American have to reevaluate and kind of deconstruct why it is so hard for me to openly talk about this subject. It’s literally something that is just a cultural thing, I mean, and it shouldn’t be a cultural thing, it really shouldn’t be a cultural thing, but it kind of is a cultural thing. I think this was the first time it was like “No, Black America, deal with your fucking molester uncle.” I think that’s what it was, and I think that was what was so hard for me. And I think that was the best thing about working with Company One on this play. Because Company One is dedicated to social justice, because they’re dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion, because they’re dedicated to the human, I had to reexamine my own politic. I felt like originally I maybe didn’t want to discuss the allegations because I was saying, “I want just to mind my business.”