Uprooting Medea Film Connects Ancient Tale to Modern Experience

The Ancient Greek Game Medea has fascinated readers, actors and viewers for nearly 2,500 years. Classic playwright Euripides created a quick-witted female character named Medea who goes to great lengths to help her beloved, Jason, only for him to end up divorcing her. Furious, Medea avenges this betrayal by killing Jason’s new lover, the ruler of Corinth, and the couple’s children.

A recent project titled Uproot 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, Wednesday at McGuinn Hall. Shah, who is the founder of Khameleon Productions, discussed the unique adaptation of the classic play by Francesca Amewudah-Rivers. The Brown Arts Institute and the Department of Classical Studies at Boston University also co-sponsored the event.

The presentation began with a short excerpt from the beginning of the film. A cast of wrapped actors move around Medea (Selina Jones) as she delivers a dramatic monologue with intensity and regularity.

Shah spoke about the film’s debut at Oxford University. He met Amewudah-Rivers in 2017 when they were both in a production of the musical Little Shop of Horrors. They were the only two students of color involved in the show, he said.

According to Shah, when Amewudah-Rivers talked about his intention to work on a new version of Medea, he did not 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 his adaptation, Uproot Medea, in 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 the need for a safe space for people of color in Oxford who were interested in the arts. She and her friends started a theater society for people of color to meet that need, she said.

According to Amewudah-Rivers, she decided to focus her project on Medea because the complexity and fearlessness of the character intrigued her, and she said she thought bringing the perspective of people of color to the text would be valuable. She said she was also looking to make the story appealing 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, think it’s not quite for them, so my vision was to modernize the genre through music.

Shah explained that Uproot Medea addresses important themes such as identity and experiences as an immigrant. He also commented on the project’s examination from scene to film about the meaning of home as Medea struggles to reconnect with her cultural roots. A big part of the team’s process was to connect with each other and Medea’s story through their shared identity as artists, Shah said.

Giving attendees of the event another sample of the play’s production, Shah played a recording of one of the play’s musical compositions, which featured ethereal choruses, beating drums and a spoken word piece. The song ended with a cacophony of contrasting drum lines and vocal layers.

Shah said he was to work on the project via Zoom, and he stressed how excited he was to be there with the audience. The conference ended with the viewing of the final scene of the film. After Shah thanked everyone for coming, a Q&A session followed. Audience members enthusiastically posed questions to Shah about the character of Medea and her own experience with the project.

“I think, necessarily, we end up bringing more of ourselves than maybe we want to share,” Shah said. “We constantly find ourselves bringing out the specific aspects of the script that we think fit most with those aspects of our stories.”

Featured Image by Steve Mooney/Heights Editor

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