The ancient Greek play Medea has enraptured readers, actors, and audience members for nearly 2,500 years. The classical playwright Euripides crafted a sharp-minded female character named Medea who goes to great lengths to help her beloved, Jason, only for him to eventually divorce her. Furious, Medea avenges this betrayal by killing Jason’s new lover, the ruler of Corinth, and the pair’s children.
A recent project titled Uprooting Medea breathes modernity into this ancient tale.
Boston College’s classical studies and African and African diaspora studies departments co-sponsored a discussion with the film’s producer, Shivaike Shah, on Wednesday in McGuinn Hall. Shah, who is the founder of Khameleon Productions, discussed Francesca Amewudah-Rivers’ unique adaptation of the classical play. The Brown Arts Institute and Boston University’s department of classical studies also co-sponsored the event.
Shah spoke of the project’s beginnings at Oxford University. He met Amewudah-Rivers in 2017 while both were in a production of the musical Little Shop of Horrors. They were the only two students of color involved with the show, he said.
According to Shah, when Amewudah-Rivers spoke of plans to work on a new version of Medea, he didn’t know much about Greek tragedy. But he knew he wanted to help his friend with her project, he said. Amewudah-Rivers originally adapted the play for the stage and later worked with Shah to shape her adaptation, Uprooting Medea, into a movie.
In a recorded video, Amewudah-Rivers explained how there was less diversity at Oxford in 2017 than there is today. Amewudah-Rivers said she saw a need for a safe space for people of color at Oxford who were interested in the arts. Along with her friends, she launched a theatre society for people of color to address this need, she said.
According to Amewudah-Rivers, she decided to focus her project on Medea because the character’s complexity and dauntlessness intrigued her, and she said she felt that bringing the perspective of people of color to the text would be valuable. She said she also sought to make the story appeal to audiences of all ages.
“I wanted to appeal to audiences our age,” Amewudah-Rivers said. “I think a lot of young people, when they think of Greek tragedy, they think it’s not quite for them. So my vision was to contemporize the genre through music.”
Shah explained that Uprooting Medea addresses important themes such as identity and experiences as an immigrant. He also commented on the stage-to-film project’s examination of the meaning of home as Medea struggles to reconnect with her cultural roots. A large part of the team’s process included connecting with each other and to Medea’s story through their shared identity as artists, Shah said.
Giving the event attendees another sampling of the play’s production, Shah played a recording of one of the play’s musical compositions, which featured ethereal backing vocals, thumping drums, and a spoken-word piece. The song ended in a cacophony of contrasting percussive lines and layers of vocals.
Shah said he had to work on the project over Zoom, and he pointed out how delighted he was to be present with the audience. After Shah thanked everyone for coming, a question-and-answer session followed. Audience members enthusiastically asked Shah questions about the character of Medea and his own experience with the project.
“I think, necessarily, we sort of end up bringing more of ourselves than perhaps we want to share,” Shah said. “We do constantly find ourselves bringing out those specific aspects of the script that we feel speak most closely to those aspects of our histories.”
Featured Image by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor
Update 5/10/2022 11:30 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify that Shah spoke about the entire project’s beginnings, including the theatrical show, while at Oxford University.
Update 5/11/2022 12:38 p.m.: The Heights has removed information about the film at the request of the production company.