Will Power’s “Detroit Red” Brings Malcolm X’s Young Adult Days To Life

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Detroit Red
Renowned lyricist and playwright Will Power commemorated Black History Month with “Detroit Red” – a play about Malcolm X’s formative years.

“Before he was Malcolm X, he was Detroit Red.” This is the premise renowned lyricist and playwright Will Power used to pay tribute to the legendary civil rights activist in his latest innovative work. Power commemorated Black History Month with “Detroit Red” – which delves into Malcolm’s formative years, exploring his life from ages 14-21.

Running Feb. 1-16, the play is based on Power’s graphic novel of the same name. It made its world premiere run at Boston’s Emerson Paramount Center. The city holds special significance because its Roxbury neighborhood is where Malcolm earned the colorful nickname. It’s also the place Power says helped shape Malcolm into the man the world knew.

“What does it mean that Malcolm X was also from Boston and how did Boston influence him?” Power asked. “I’m looking back at these critical years that really kind of laid the foundation for Malcolm X to be Malcolm X. It happened right here.”

Power said he thought it was important to highlight Malcolm’s life, and his flaws, before he ascended beyond his troubled circumstances to become one of the world’s greatest leaders.

“I feel like it’s important to show their greatness but also show their mistakes and their faults so that when you’re watching the play, we know what he’s gonna be, but he doesn’t know,” Power told Boston 25 News.

Directed by Lee Sunday Evans and presented by ArtsEmerson, the play begins with 21-year-old Malcolm facing a life-changing decision. It has received rave reviews from several publications.

The Bay State Banner called Power’s play “the latest work to mine fresh ground in the life of Malcolm X …” adding “The production employs inventive, multimedia staging that complements Power’s rich, rhymed dialogues.” The Arts Fuse said “ … there is much to admire about Detroit Red’s script …”

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Power said it shows Malcolm in an authentic light which Black men, and the people who love them, can relate to.

“These people in my community reminded me of Detroit Red, like him they were angry, brilliant, creative and artistic, and sometimes violent,” Power told the Boston Herald.  “It made me think, ‘How did Malcolm X transform into this larger-than-life, iconic figure, when other brothers didn’t make that transformation?’”

He said he hopes the play helps others see Malcolm was not always this larger than life figure, but a Black man who found a way to defeat the odds despite his humble, trauma-filled beginnings.

“My hope is that a lot of people – both older people who know Malcolm and also younger people who are maybe not as familiar – will be able to empathize with him and say, ‘Okay wow, that looks like me. That’s like my brother, that’s like my cousin – brilliant but flawed, but he still was able to make it through,’” Power said.