Mychal Denzel Smith

  • CLOSE-UP: HELD STILL

    AFTER EIGHTEEN YEARS, Sethe and Paul D, characters in Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved, are reunited in a house that is haunted by the ghost of Sethe’s infant child. The two of them had been enslaved on a plantation they call Sweet Home, the sort of ironic name that plagued those years. (My great-great-great grandfather, born enslaved in 1836, was named Pleasant.) Paul D has been wandering since he ran away, while Sethe, in the wake of emancipation, has found a home for herself and her only surviving daughter, Denver, though the ghost keeps them isolated. Sethe has invited Paul D, who was

  • INFINITE VARIETY

    IN THE SECOND EPISODE of his short-lived 1977 variety show, Richard Pryor performs a sketch in which he plays the front man for a heavy-metal outfit called Black Death. Before he gets to the stage, the nearly all-white audience, ravenous with anticipation, repeatedly screams in unison, “We want Black Death! We want Black Death!” Pryor’s character—looking like a cross between a member of Kiss and a Muppet—is lowered to the stage from above, his bandmates having already emerged from caskets. He starts in on his performance, consisting of some guitar tricks and screeched, indecipherable