Letters to the editor, April 18
Thank you, Dottie
In response to Dorothea Benton Frank’s “Town Square” from April 11 (“Mega-mansions: the other side of the story,” page 12): I too am a long time Montclair resident of a “historic” home and not sure why it’s historic other than it being old.
We’ve maintained our home because it’s what we want not because Montclair wants it. We are certainly not the richest man on the block but what we do contribute in taxes isn’t worth what we get in return for living here.
I want to thank the mega mansion owner for his courage in tearing down the buildings on his property so that he could put up his dream house. Nothing wrong with that.
I feel if it really is important to this town to maintain homes like ours, they should come up with incentives for owners and the first place to start would be much lower property taxes not restrictions on what we can/can’t do with what we own. It would certainly make it more affordable and easier to stay in town and maintain the property. I wish I liked Florida.
In response to play review
This letter addresses Gwen Orel’s April 11 review of “Heartland”, the play currently running at Luna Stage. This response is co-written by Heartland’s playwright Gabriel Jason Dean and dramaturg/cultural consultant, Humaira Ghilzai.
While we were both disappointed to read Orel’s mixed review of the play and a number of problematic statements she makes therein, our quarrel ultimately isn’t with her subjective estimation of the production. However, Orel and her editors went beyond subjective criticism when they grossly mischaracterized “Heartland” by labeling it, “cultural appropriation of the first order.”
We assert that Orel’s offensive and damaging phrase is false and bad journalism. We ask, at a minimum, that the language be retracted from the review immediately.
From early drafts of “Heartland,” the playwright has been closely collaborating with Humaira Ghilzai, an Afghan-born dramaturg and professional cultural consultant who has worked with theatres, films, and writers on cultural authenticity relating to Afghanistan and the Islamic world for the past eight years. Ghilzai’s work is consistently praised by the Afghan and Muslim community. In 2018, she received recognition from the Afghan Coalition for her work on the adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Together with Dean, Ghilzai has continued her acclaimed work with “Heartland,” striving to accurately reflect her beloved Afghanistan and Sunni Muslims. So when Orel accuses “Heartland” of cultural appropriation, she accuses Ghilzai of appropriating her own culture. What is actually happening in “Heartland” is authentic cultural exchange.
This collaboration between Dean and Ghilzai is widely documented. A simple Google search confirms it: The Austin Chronicle, Vortex Interview and Geva Journal Interview.
Additionally, Ghilzai is also credited in the Luna Stage program and cited in their easily-viewable lobby display. We are not sure how Orel missed Ghilzai’s involvement, but in a climate when facts matter more than ever, we highly encourage you to do your utmost to get them right. We certainly did.
As a former journalist and practicing academic, Dean endeavors to get beyond his own blinders by doing his research. Beyond collaborating with Ghilzai, Dean interviewed numerous Afghans, Muslims, scholars of Islam and Imams while writing “Heartland.” Additionally, Luna Stage invited local Imam Kevin Dawud Amin and Maplewood resident Nahela Hadi, an Afghan, to rehearsals to advise on their production.
Earlier this year, HowlRound livestreamed The Vortex production of the play in Austin, Texas. Ghilzai’s non-profit, the Afghan Friends Network, an organization dedicated to improving education for girls and women in Afghanistan, organized several watch parties in San Francisco. The play was met with great enthusiasm by the Afghan community there. During the 2018 Geva Theatre production in Rochester, N.Y., speaking about the character of Nazrullah, a Muslim-American high school student responded that he was so happy to see “a true Muslim” rather than a terrorist onstage for the first time in his life. And recently in an audience talkback during InterAct Theatre’s production in Philadelphia, an Afghan doctor from New Jersey recounted his own personal story of walking hundreds of miles to escape the invading Soviets and coming to the U.S. as a refugee. He said, “I wish more plays like this about Afghanistan existed.” Of the many Afghans and Muslims who have encountered “Heartland” during its five productions across the country, not one has raised concern about cultural appropriation.
Furthermore, Orel’s review suggests a deeper, more problematic xenophobic point of view. Orel writes, “Getee is not a Muslim…and Naz doesn’t mind?” This flippant phrase suggests it would be inconceivable for an Afghan Muslim to be romantically interested in a non-Muslim, which simply shows Orel’s limited scope of imagination and scant knowledge of Afghan culture. Believe it or not, in spite of a sometimes restrictive society, Afghans, like the rest of the world, love who they love. The current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is married to a Christian woman.
GABRIEL JASON DEAN
San Francisco, Calif.
Shout-out to all at MHS
As the school year is fast approaching its conclusion, I would like to give a robust shout-out to Montclair High School students, teachers and administrators.
Each time I see and talk to teachers, I thank them for managing their classroom under challenging circumstances and each one says with a smile, they have adjusted and all is going well.
Likewise, when I have seen students and also thanked them for adjusting to a different MHS and they agreed with a smile that it wasn’t a big deal.
The Class of 2019 has set the right tone at MHS and I thank them for their leadership and a most successful year. Thanks to all at MHS.