Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities. Front Cover. Anna Deavere Smith. Anchor Books/Doubleday, – Drama – pages. : Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities ( ): Anna Deavere Smith, Anna Deavere Smith: Books. Fires in the Mirror has ratings and 50 reviews. Cat said: This play made me fall in love with Anna Deavere Smith. Fires in the Mirror focuses on th.

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Inin the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New Yorka member of the Lubavitch branch of Hasidic Judaism lost control of his car, jumped the curb, and killed a seven-year-old black child. This incident and the circumstances surrounding it led to a period of extremely high tension between the black community and the Jewish community in Crown Heights, including riots and the murder of the Lubavitcher Jew, Yankel Rosenbaum. As these events were unfolding, Anna Deavere Smith began a series of interviews with many of those involved in the conflict as well as those who were able to make key insights into its nature, its causes, anba its results.

In her davere Fires in the Mirrorfirst produced in New York City inSmith distills these interviews into monologues by twenty-six different characters, each of whom provides an important and differing view on the situation in Crown Heights. These perspectives combine to form a profound explanation of the conflicts between the different Crown Heights communities. Smith examines many of the historical causes of the situation, many of the racial theories that help to explain it, and a broad variety of opinions on the deagere and people involved, in order to come closer to the truth about what happened and why.

Her play, which is the thirteenth part of her unique project On the Road: A Search for the American Character combines journalism and drama in order to examine not just the racial tension and violence in Crown Heights, but deaveree broader themes, including racial, religious, gender, and class identity, and the historical conflict between these communities in the United States.

Smith was born September 18,in Baltimore, Maryland. The daughter of an elementary school principal and a coffee merchant, she was the oldest of five children.

Smith attended Beaver College, outside of Philadelphia, from toand after graduating she became interested in the Black Power movement, moving to San Franciscoin part to participate in social and political agitation. Smith then began a professorial career teaching at universities, including Yale, New York University, and Carnegie Mellon. She ghe began a unique, long-term project called On the Road: A Search for American Charactermade up of a series of plays that combine journalism with dramatic performance.

She went on to write and perform two additional plays in the s, but it was her play Fires in the Mirror that rocketed her into the spotlight. She has since written and performed four additional plays, including Twilight: Smith has also acted in television shows, including The West Wingand movies, including The American President She was awarded a prestigious “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation inand inin association with the Ford Foundation, she founded the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard now at New York University to address socially and politically conscious art.

Smith continues to write, act, teach, and perform.

Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith | : Books

The opening section of Fires in the Mirror is called “Identity. In the next scene, an anonymous Lubavitcher woman tells the story of a black deavefe coming into her house on Shabbas, the Jewish holy day, to switch off their radio. Wolfe ‘s perspective on his racial identity, in which he argues that blackness exists independently of whiteness.

The second section, “Mirrors,” contains only one scene, in which Aaron M.

Fires in the Mirror

Bernstein discusses how mirrors are associated with distortion both in literature and in science. Physicists make telescopes with mirrors as large as possible in order to minimize the “circle of confusion. The next section, “Hair,” begins with a scene in which an anonymous black girl talks about how Hispanic and black teenagers in her Crown Heights junior high school think about race and act according to their racial identities.

In “Me and James’s Thing,” the Reverend Al Sharpton explains that he straightens his hair a practice that developed in the s to simulate “white” hair because he once promised the soul music star James Brown that he would always wear it this way.

Next, Rivkah Siegal discusses the common Lubavitch practice of wearing a wig.

Angela Davis is the speaker in the only scene in the section “Race. In the “Rhythm” section, Monique “Big Mo” Matthews discusses rap, particularly the attitude toward women in feavere culture.

The first speaker in “Seven Verses” is Professor Leonard Jeffries, who describes his involvement in Roots flres, the classic book and then television series about the slave trade. Letty Cottin Pogrebin argues in the next scene that blacks attack Jews because Jews are the only racial group that listens to them and views them as full human beings. Minister Conrad Mohammed then outlines his view of the terrible historical suffering by blacks at the hands of whites, stressing that blacks, and not Jews, are God’s chosen people.


In the scene “Isaac,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin reads s,ith story about her mother’s cousin, who participated in Nazi gassing in order to survive the Holocaust. Robert Sherman then contends that the English language is insufficient for describing and understanding race relations. The final section of the play begins with Rabbi Joseph Spielman, who gives his versions of the accident that killed Gavin Cato and of the deavdre of Yankel Rosenbaum, stressing that the black community lied about hte events in order to start anti-Semitic riots.

Reverend Canon Doctor Heron Sam then describes his opposing mirrpr of the two events, full of resentment that the Lubavitcher Grand Rebbe’s entourage was reckless and unconcerned about having killed Gavin Cato. In “Wa Wa Wa,” an anonymous young man from Crown Heights describes what he saw of the accident, maintaining that the police never arrest Jews or give blacks justice.

Miller then argues that the black community in Crown Heights is extremely anti-Semitic.

Fires in the Mirror |

While he was trying to stop blacks from instigating violence, he was hit and handcuffed by the police and, after he was released, threatened by a young black man. Norman Rosenbaum gives a speech about the injustice of his brother’s stabbing. Kirror the next scene, “16 Hours Difference,” Rosenbaum describes his reaction at the time he heard about his brother’s murder. In “Bad Boy,” an anonymous young smirh contends that the sixteen-year-old blamed for Yankel Rosenbaum’s murder is an athlete and therefore would not have killed anyone.

Sonny Carson then describes his connection with the black youth community and his motivation for leading them in activism against the white power structure. Rabbi Shea Hecht argues that integration is not the solution to race relations, and he interprets the Lubavitcher Grand Rebbe’s comment that all are one people.

Richard Green then speaks of the rage mirrror black youths in Crown Heights and the lack of role models for black youths. It starred Smith, was directed by George C. Wolfeand was produced by Cherie Fortis. In “The Coup,” Roslyn Malamud contends that the blacks involved in the rioting were not her neighbors, and she blames the police department and the leaders of the black community for letting things get out of control. Reuven Ostrov describes how Jews get scared because there are Jew haters everywhere.

Finally, Carmel Cato describes his trauma at seeing his son die and expresses his resentment of powerful Jews. The anonymous girl of “Look in the Mirror” is a “Junior high school black girl of Haitian descent” who lives near Crown Heights.

She discusses who follows and copies whom in junior high school, making insights about the racial attitudes that develop during adolescence. The anonymous Lubavitcher woman in the second scene of the play is a mother and preschool teacher in her mid-thirties.

She appears slightly flustered by the religious restrictions that dictate what Hasidic Jews can and cannot do on Shabbas, but she laughs about the situation in which a black boy turns off their radio for them. He was on the street when Yosef Lifsh’s car ran over Gavin Cato, and he believes that Lifsh was drunk. When no one wants to do anything to stop Lifsh from getting away, the young man starts to cry.

He believes that there will never be any justice because the words of black people “don’t have no meanin'” in Crown Heights. An African American man in his late teens or early twenties, the anonymous young man from the scene “Bad Boy” insists that young black men are either athletes, rappers, or robbers and killers, but not more than one of these things.

For this reason, he argues, the sixteen-year-old athlete accused of killing Yankel Rosenbaum is innocent. A physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyAaron Bernstein is a man in his fifties who wears a shirt with a pen guard. An activist and agitator, Sonny Carson is involved in the Crown Heights riots. Gavin Cato’s father, Mr. Cato is a deeply traumatized man with a “pronounced West Indian accent. Cato describes his son’s death and his own reaction afterward in the final scene of the play.

He explains that what is “devastating” him is that there is no justice because Jews are “runnin’ the whole show. Davis is the activist and intellectual whose scene “Rope” discusses the need for a new way of viewing race relations.

She became involved in philosophy and activism while studying in the United States and Europe during the s. Inshe was placed on the FBI Most Wanted List and was imprisoned on homicide and kidnapping charges, of which she was acquitted in Since then, she has had a successful and prominent career as a scholar and activist, writing about issues such as race theory, and working to achieve prison reform, racial equality, and women’s rights.


As her scene in Fires in the Mirror reveals, Davis is a sophisticated historian and philosopher as well as a practical thinker about community and community relations.

At the time of her scene in the play, she is a professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz.

Green is a community activist who speaks about the rage that young blacks feel and about their lack of role models and guidance. He stresses that leaders of the black community, such as Al Sharpton, do not control the youths actually carrying out the riots, and that the youths’ rage builds up and cannot be contained.

Implicitly defending the young black people who used phrases like “Heil Hitler” in the riots, he argues that they do not even know who Hitler was, and that the only black leader they know is Malcolm X. Green is the director of the Crown Heights Youth Collective and the codirector of a black-Hasidic basketball team that developed after the riots. His main role during the period of racial tension was to attempt to end the violence.

A Lubavitcher rabbi and spokesperson, Rabbi Hecht talks about community relations in his scene “Ovens. He does not acknowledge that it is difficult for a community of people to have respect for another community’s unique needs unless they understand what these needs are.

Jeffries is a controversial intellectual figure who speaks in the play about his work with Alex Haley on the famous book and television series Roots. After enjoying marked success in his private education, Jeffries worked and studied in Europe and Africa and then took a position as professor of African American studies at the City University of New York.

By this time, he had developed a profound interest in working as an advocate for black social advancement, and he had begun to espouse some of his key theories about race and race relations. He began to come under criticism for his views that there are biological and psychological differences between blacks and whites, and that wealthy European Jews played an important role in running the slave trade.

A New York Times editorial in denounced Jeffries as an incompetent educator and a conspiratorial theorist, and between and Jeffries fought a legal battle with the City University of New York over his chairmanship of the African American Studies Department. His scene in Smith’s play questions whether he is an anti-Semite; explores his personal history and his view of himself; and plays with the notion of losing and discovering African roots. A Lubavitcher resident of Crown Heights, Ms.

Malamud blames black community leaders for instigating the riots and blames the police for letting them get out of control. She is shocked and horrified by the riots, and seeks to blame the series of events on individuals and policies rather than community groups or any kind of entrenched racial tension.

She claims that her black neighbors want exactly what she wants out of life, although she admits that she does not know them. A rapper from Los AngelesMo is a skilled poet and a socially conscious political thinker.

In the preface to Mo’s scene, Smith writes, “Mo’s everyday speech was as theatrical as Latifah’s performance speech,” referring to the famous rap artist and actor Queen Latifah. Mo feels a great deal of anger at black male rappers who demean women and who have a double standard about promiscuity, and she expresses these sentiments in her music and in conversation. Mo has ties to feminism because of what she calls her “female assertin,'” and she believes that rap music is a powerful tool of expression that is essentially rhythm and poetry.

Well known Jewish American writer and founding editor of Ms. Smith describes her as “Direct, passionate, confident, lots of volume,” and it is also apparent from Pogrebin’s lines that she is self-confident and eloquent. In “Near Enough to Reach,” Pogrebin speculates that the tension and violence between blacks and Jews is due to the fact that Jews are close to blacks and take them seriously enough to address them in their rage. In “Isaac,” she is reluctant at first to share a Holocaust story because she worries that they are becoming dulled through overuse, but she goes on to read about the horrific experience of her other’s cousin.

A resident of Crown Heights, Mr. Rice was involved in the riots, first as a skeptic of those preaching peace, and then as a preacher of peace.

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