Jamaican-born Actor’s Adaptation of “The Hate Race” Memoir Staged in Australia

Australian Jamaican actor, Zahra Newman, performed a one-woman show in Melbourne, Australia, adapted from the award-winning memoir, “The Hate Race,” by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Most of the characters in the story are from the Caribbean, just like Newman.

A story of childhood seen through “the lens of race”

Newman has been closely involved with the one-woman adaptation of “The Hate Race,” and in her performance, she shifts from one role to another portraying a child, father, teacher, and grandmother. The show tells Clarke’s story of being born and raised in Australia to parents who were migrants from England. Her father, who has Jamaican ancestry, was a mathematician, and her mother, originally from Guyana, is an actor. Clarke describes the story as one of “childhood shown through the lens of race” as it describes a child who is “worn down” by overt and subtle manifestations of racism. She says the “essence” of the play is that a person can be “slowly eroded” by these factors.

Humor provides contrast

Playwright Clarke also called the show “a work of Black joy” and said she and Newman wanted it “to be funny.” She noted that childhood is essentially a time for fun and that the point of the story is how an ordinary childhood, with all its enjoyable moments, is interrupted by the insidious intrusion of casual racism and micro-aggressions.

Newman’s connection to the story

Actor Newman shared that she has felt a connection to the story from the start, and before starring in the stage show, was the voice of the audiobook of Clarke’s memoir. In particular, she connects with the experience of being marginalized and unseen, “ignored and sidelined,” and “exoticized.” She related to the book in that she has experienced being a young person in a country that continually told her that she didn’t belong there. However, she adds that her experience differs from Clarke’s in that she migrated to Australia and was not born there. She believes it hurts more if a person is born in a place “that doesn’t want you.” Newman also shared that the humor of “The Hate Race” provides a point of connection for audiences by making the story more inclusive. She believes the humor offers a safe way to explore serious issues and make the story accessible to a broader audience.

Newman’s background and career achievements

Zahra Newman was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, and lived in Kingston before moving with her mother to Australia at age 14. She pursued her passion for the performing arts by working with Father HoLung and Friends, a Caribbean music and theater arts group linked to Missionaries of the Poor. After migrating to Brisbane, Australia, she performed with the Harvest Rain Theater Company. In 2008, Newman graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts and has performed with theater companies in Melbourne and Sydney throughout her career. She has also appeared on television and in films, and in 2012, won a Green Room Award for Female Actor. In 2014, she was nominated for two Helpman Awards, one for Best Female Actor in a Play and another for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role.

Photo:  Malthouse Theatre