Quite Contrary: The importance of art after death
The University of Tennesse’s The Daily Beacon
I don’t know a lot about Harry Potter.
I tried to catch up in high school and got through part of the fifth book, but I never found the motivation to finish the series. So, when Alan Rickman died last week and my Facebook news feed was filled with crying face emojis, I had no idea what was going on.
“Oh, another celebrity died this week,” I said to myself as I scrolled down to more interesting news. As it turns out, the more interesting news was actually Alan Rickman’s off-screen life.
In addition to being a remarkable actor, Alan Rickman was also a very outspoken advocate for Palestinian human rights. Rickman edited and directed a play to raise awareness about the life and death of Rachel Corrie, an American college student and member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting a house demolition during the Second Intifada.
Along with journalist Katharine Viner, Rickman took Corrie’s diaries and emails and adapted them for the stage, titling the project “My Name is Rachel Corrie.” The play premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2005 and has since been performed all over the world, drawing both praise from pro-Palestine activists and criticism from prominent Zionists. Either way, though, it seems that the play made an impact.
Rickman’s death came at an interesting time for me. The day Rickman died was also the scheduled opening of my own pro-Palestine play, “WALLS: A Play for Palestine,” at UT’s Clarence Brown Lab Theatre. My play discusses my struggles growing up as a Palestinian American and learning about my Palestinian heritage. Although it is personal, it has the explicitly political aim of raising awareness about Israeli military occupation. On Thursday, I was nervous about how my play would be received. Would people be bored? Would they be angry and walk out? Would this play really make any sort of difference, or was it a waste of time?
Because of Rickman’s death, I was reminded on our opening day of Rachel Corrie and the impact of this piece of pro-Palestine theater. I had read Rickman’s play in preparation for my own writing, but I had never made the connection to such an influential actor.
As I scrolled through my Facebook feed, I saw an image of Rickman with a quote of his beside it: “Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.”
In a culture that so often devalues the arts and humanities by underfunding these departments at universities or pushing kids into medicine and engineering, I was reminded that art is still valued in some spheres of our society and that it is still being used for political good. I went into opening night feeling inspired by Rickman’s work and thinking of my own work as a way to honor his memory.
I can’t comment on Alan Rickman’s acting, but I can comment on his allyship. He knew what it meant to be an ally for the Palestinian people, and he used his talents to raise awareness about Israeli military brutality. Alan Rickman spoke for Palestine when he didn’t have to, and he used his artistic talents to do so. The solution to civil and human rights violations, from Palestine to Black Lives Matter, will require a cultural shift.
Art is uniquely positioned to bring about this change, and advocacy from well-known artists like Rickman will speed along the process. Thank you, Alan Rickman, for your art and for your activism.