The murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by BART police in 2009 gave America a glimpse of the power and racial dynamics in Oakland, California. The trial and brief conviction of BART officer Johannes Mehserle fostered conversations across the country about race, power and justice. However, for residents of Oakland, Oscar’s death reopened wounds made by a corrupt justice system that failed people of color before and after his untimely death. Chasing Mehserle is an artistic analysis of and response to the political and racial climate of Oakland by resident artist Chinaka Hodge.
This stageplay follows the 12-month journey of a man on a mission to find Johannes Mehserle. The protagonist rediscovers his hometown while mapping the city from West Oakland to the Fruitvale Train Station where Oscar Grant was fatally shot. The play will raise questions about social constructs of race and class as they relate to the justice system. Through dialogue, art installations and map projections, audiences will witness a study on the treatment of Black people as victims of a broken, insidious environment.
“With Chasing Mehserle, this is my attempt to explain the complexities of race in and around the Bay Area as it spills out messily around us, particularly in the years since Oscar Grant,” said Chinaka Hodge. “With these pieces I wish to answer the primary question of ‘What does it mean to be black?’ And what does it mean now? Post President, Post Oscar.”
Chasing Mehserle opens on Thursday, May 8 at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, California. Directed by Sean San José and presented by Campo Santo and the Living Word Project, the play will have a limited run at Intersection for the Arts, followed by a three-show run at San Francisco’s Z Space performing arts center in preparation for a national tour.
Chinaka Hodge is a poet, playwright and screenwriter from Oakland, California. She earned her M.F.A. in Writing for Film and Television from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Hodge also served as a member of the U.S. Artist Delegation to the World Social Forum in Narobi, Kenya in early 2007.Hodge’s first play, Mirrors in Every Corner, was commissioned by Campo Santo and Intersection for the Arts in 2010. Her work has been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, PBS, CNN, NPR and HBO’s Def Poetry.