A fictitious billboard on 59th and Halsted features a picture of three Black women enjoying bottomless mimosas at brunch. The scene is emblazoned with text that reads,“Black women have the right to make decisions for their families and their bodies. Abortion is self-care. #TrustBlackWomen.”
The advertisement, and the heavy work of Black reproductive-rights activists who are facing threats from an anti-choice political gadfly, are the subject of Natalie Moore’s new play, The Billboard. On Monday, the author and renowned journalist celebrated the launch of her new book at the Haymarket House in Buena Park alongside TaRon Patton, who will direct a production of the play this summer.
Inspired by a controversial billboard in Dallas, Moore’s script presents a fictitous Black women’s health clinic in Englewood fighting against a pro-life city council candidate who puts up a billboard challenging women’s reproductive rights. The clinic’s executive director, Tanya Gray, decides to counter the attack with her own billboard that stirs debate about the nuances of abortion through intraracial lens.
“A part of changing the narrative means you have to challenge yourself,” Moore said at the event. She referenced her own coverage from 2011 of an anti-abortion campaign targeting Black communities on Chicago’s South Side that featured a picture of former President Barack Obama next to the phrase, “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted.”
With a friend’s nudge, Moore began writing the play in 2018, around the same time that playwright and poet Ntozake Shange died. A reference to her play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, in the opening scene serves as a homage to Shange.
Safe and legal abortion has been a constitutional right in the U.S. since the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, but opposition has been unwavering. Last year, the federal courts upheld a Texas ban on abortion after six weeks of pregancy, risking the future of national legal abortion. This summer, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court are expected to rule on a Mississippi ban on abortion that could overturn Roe.
“I think [writing about] abortion can always be timely,” Moore said. “But I did not think it would be this urgent.”
TaRon Patton, co-founding executive director of the African American Museum of Performing Arts and a member of Congo Square Theatre ensemble, shared her vision for the play, which requires multimedia elements during montage and social media scenes.
“One of the things I want to do with the multimedia is make it more intimate,” Patton said at the event. Patton envisions holding a candidate forum during the play that could be more approachable to audiences than national debates can be. “It’s about using multimedia to make it more about the people.”
The Billboard is set to take the stage this summer at Northwestern University’s Wirtz Center, produced by Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater, from June 23, 2022 to July 17, 2022. Tickets are $25. Moore’s new play is now available to purchase from Haymarket Books.
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