TITLE:†††††††††† Reparations?What!



by Emily Nghiem, 2001


Calista enters the set.Cast members cart off legal boxes of books.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Whatís going on?Finally repairing the huge leak in the ceiling?


Woman 1:††††††††††††††††††† No, honey.Weíre expanding.Big time!

(with 2 boxes

of legal files)


Woman 2:††††††† Theyíre completely rebuilding the law library.Taking on a

††††††††††††††††††††††† colossal class action.(women load boxes onto elevator dolly)


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Richard, is there something I should know about? The

††††††††††††††††††††††† showís not being cancelled, is it?In mid-season?


Richard:††††††††††† (holds door, directs beeline) No.You havenít heard?

††††††††††††††††††††††† (pulls Ally aside)Listen, two of the senior partners

††††††††††††††††††††††† cut a deal with the big boss upstairs (eyes roll up) to get

††††††††††††††††††††††† us more library space if we agree to take a federal case--


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Cut a deal with whom? The set designers? Studio owners?


Richard:††††††††††† Shhhh!The big guy! B-I-G.No oneís supposed to know.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Who then?With God?Someone bigger than that?


Richard:††††††††††† The network producers.Some private grantor paid a

(whispers)††††† million some-odd dollars into the showís budget if weíd do

††††††††††††††††††††††† a favor for his best friendís god-daughter, whoever.Some

††††††††††††††††††††††† small-time public housing activist from Houston.But for

††††††††††††††††††††††† the sake of the script, all weíre supposed to know is sheís

††††††††††††††††††††††† the landlordís niece-by-marriage.Weíre doing this just to

††††††††††††††††††††††† get a brand new library out of the deal.Got it? Now shhh!


Ally:†††††††††††††††† The landlordís niece?So thatís our new client, hmm?


Richard:††††††††††† Heard sheís a total nut.Weíre supposed to humor her.

Until the writers cut a deal with the feds to settle this thing.


Ally and Richard enter office, look around. Richard slips Ally a script.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† What is it, a class-action?Over Reparations!What?


Richard:††††††††††† Shhh!All I know is the woman weíre representing is a civil

††††††††††††††††††††††† rights freak.Iím not even supposed to know that.Or have

††††††††††††††††††††††† this script.You get caught with this, didnít get it from me!


Ally (flips through script, flipping out):Whoa! Did Rev. Jesse Jackson have

††††††††††††††††††††††† anything to do with this? Or are the writers on strike again?


Richard (escorts Ally to her office):†††† Whatever you do, just act normal.

(waves and shuts door) †††††††††††††††††††††† Act like you donít know anything.


Ally sighs.Throws script into her top drawer.Startled by a voice.


Emily locks the door, blocks it with her chair, sits down cross-armed.


Ally (jumps up):††††††††††† Who are you?Are you --


Emily:†††††††††††††† Youíve got the script, Calista.You know who I am.Iím the

††††††††††††††††††††††† landlordís ďnutcaseĒ ďniece-by-marriageĒ.Ha! Thatís good!


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Calista?My name is Ally.And your name is --


Emily:†††††††††††††† Emily.(holds out hand) I use my real name.Unlike you.

(looks around) Where are the cameras?I know we canít

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† look at them directly.So where are they?


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Cameras?Script?What are you talking about?


Emily:†††††††††††††† Give it up, Miss Flockhart.Youíre a Hollywood actress.

††††††††††††††††††††††† And this is a prime time hit TV show.We both know that.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† What?Weíre a law firm.And youíre our new client, right?


Emily:†††††††††††††† All right, all right.Iíll stick to the script.The reason Iím

††††††††††††††††††††††† hiring you, is I canít find legal representation in Houston.


Iím sitting on a 30-year civil rights battle over land the government took from Freed

Slaves descendants.Historic property the city wants to sell to developers to build

high-rise slums.But we canít find a lawyer to protect poor black residents, so the

case drags on.But your firm, your firm is great!Iíve watched you every week on TV.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† On TV?What?


Emily:†††††††††††††† You settle cases in one hour.Just like that (snaps fingers)

††††††††††††††††††††††† And that includes commercial breaks.Youíre just what we

††††††††††††††††††††††† need.You gotta help us sue the government.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† For what?


Emily:†††††††††††† For fraud.Conspiring with developers to violate its own

††††††††††††††††††††††† laws.Under the RICO act.You know, racketeering?


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Just a moment please.(presses telecom)Richard!Get

††††††††††††††††††††††† your butt in here right now!Yes, she is!Itís unbelievable!


Ally leaves intercom on. Richard and others listen from his office, smirking.


Richard:††††††††††† Just humor her.I know, I know.Try not to laugh.Youíll

get us all fired.Of course, but donít tell her that.Act like

you donít know.Let her do all the talking.Stay in character!

††††††††††††††††††††††† (Richard hangs up, laughing to himself:Oh, God, this is wild!)


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Sorry.I just, I . . . this is very hard for me to . . . uh . . .


Emily:†††††††††††††† Look, Iím sorry.Iíll make it easy on you.Just let me say

††††††††††††††††††††††† my lines.You just sit there.Donít have to say a thing.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Donít worry.Iím speechless.


Emily:†††††††††††††† The point of this episode, I mean, this quote ďfederal caseĒ

††††††††††††††††††††††† is to get it publicized on national TV, I mean, to create

††††††††††††††††††††††† documentation on public record, through the camera, I

††††††††††††††††††††††† mean, the courts, the federal courts (leans forward) When

weíre done, tell me where they hid the cameras, okay?


Ally (rolls eyes):††† Donít know what youíre talking about.Are you demanding

††† reparations for slavery?From whom?For what?


Emily:†††††††††††††† Reparations upon reparations.For insult added to injury.

Not only have freed slaves been denied their ď40 acres

and a muleĒ but their descendants have been cheated of civil rights.

No one wants to acknowledge the plight of poor blacks displaced by

gentrification.Well, I call it urban gentricide.Whole communities

killed off in the name of commercial real estate development, just because

federal courts favor big corporations.Everyone in Texas knows that.


Co-workers in Richardís office exchange amazed glances and side comments.


Man 1:†††††††††††† Unbelievable!She just spat out more lines in a single breath

††††††††††††††††††††††† than I got the entire last season combined!Whoís her agent?


Woman 2:††††††† (looking at script) Thatís nothing.Look at this huge speech sheís

got, coming up in a few pages Ė


Richard:††††††††††† Be quiet!Iím trying to listen, guys!


Man 2 (to Richard):††††† And Hamlet here has a whole monologue to himself!


Woman 1:††††††† Shhhhhh!


Emily:†† So corporate law firms deliberately abuse federal courts to deny poor

people their right to petition in state court. Itís been going on for years.


Ally:†††† †† Canít blame the legal system.People are equal under the law.


Emily:†† IF they ever get to court.With an honest lawyer who wonít sell them out.

But itís not happening here.In effect, the legal system abridges the right to

petition. Thatís reality.And itís unconstitutional!Look at the First Amendment.

Or the Fourteenth.What do those say?Know what the Bill of Rights says?


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Iím not a constitutional lawyer.Youíll have to speak with

††††††††††††††††††††††† Richard.Let me page him for you.Just a second. (pages)

††††††††††††††††††††††† Richard.Can you come in here? No, on constitutional law.


Emily (presses the button, looks her in the eye):Congress shall make

††††††††††† no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting

the free exercise thereof;or abridging the freedom of speech

[thatís what weíre exercising now], or of the press; or the right

of the people PEACEABLY to ASSEMBLE, and to PETITION


Which amendment is that, Miss Lockhart?


Ally:†††† The First Amendment.And thatís Flockhart, not Lockhart.


Emily:†† Aha, caught you that time!Iím sorry.Miss McBeal?

(to cameras) Sorry!(waves and winks, hear set crew laughing)

Remember to edit that bit out, okay?Now where were we?


Ally:†††† On the First Amendment.Which is fine, but you still have to follow civil

procedure in any court.And Iím sure the statute of limitations has run.


Emily:†††††††††††††† Have you ever heard of the consent of the governed?The

authority of the people?Section 2 of the Texas Bill of Rights?


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Now youíre getting into Texas law.Iím sorry, Iím just an --


Emily:†††††††††††††† A paid actress.I know.Read your script.I know youíve got

it stashed away in your desk.The cites are in the appendix.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Letís see.Exhibit One, the Declaration of Independence?

††††††††††††††††††††††† By Jefferson?Didnít he own slaves he wouldnít release?


Emily:†††††††††††††† He couldnít if they were owned by the bank.Mortgaged

like property, who knows?At least Jefferson educated his

††††††††††††††††††††††† slaves, taught them to READ.Unlike lawyers who wonít

††††††††††††††††††††††† even look at the laws.Or want to know what they say.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† ď... the just powers of government are derived from the

††††††††††††††††††††††† consent of the governed ...Ē


Emily:†††††††††††††† Thatís the spirit of the law. Consent. Go on. About the

peopleís right in Texas to alter or abolish their government --


Ally:†††††††††††††††† In any way they deem expedient so long as they respect a

††††††††††††††††††††††† republican form of government?Is this really the law?


Emily:†††††††††††††† Yes, but itís never been used.Until now.Iím asking you

††††††††††††††††††††††† to apply the First Amendment.To restore every citizenís

††††††††††††††††††††††† right to petition, freely and publicly, beyond a court system

††††††††††††††††††††††† that has failed to provide equal protection under the law to

††††††††††† †††††† †††† everyone, to poor people, by the Fourteenth Amendment.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† What reparations are you petitioning for?


Emily:†††††††††††††† To return the freed slave settlement in Houston to

††††††††††††††††††††††† descendants of the original owners.To reverse the

††††††††††††††††††††††† decision, the damage done by ďeminent domain.Ē

(flips through script) See Appendix 5.

Eight black families fought all the way to the Supreme Court to retain their land, their

property ownership in Freedmenís Town.That proves they did not give their consent.


Man 2:†††††††††††† Here it comes, folks.Her big diatribe on democracy.

††††††††††††††††††††††† The pledge of allegiance to free speech.(puts hand over his heart)


Woman 1:††††††† Shut-up.(puts her hand over his mouth)


Emily: And without consent, we have no laws, no rights, no democracy.We have dictatorship.

Completely against the spirit of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.Those poor families,

and now the current residents, have been denied their First Amendment right to assemble

as a community and to petition for their existence.Their right to life, liberty, property.

National historical property, destroyed by corporate developers, who know they canít

fight back in court.Itís a conspiracy, to violate rights. The voice of the people must be heard.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Thatís a beautiful concept, Emily.Ideal democracy.But

††††††††††††††††††††††† itís nowhere near reality. We canít be perfect. Nobody is.


Emily:†††††††††††††† But thatís what our laws say!If we donít live up to our own

††††††††††††††††††††††† standards, weíre living a lie. Breaking the law.Weíd have

††††††††††††††††††††††† true equality, if we just followed our own written principles:

††††††††††††††††††††††† free speech, free press, right to petition...If people would

††††††††††††††††††††††† only listen!Wait, donít go! (tries to stop Ally from leaving)


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Actually, Iíve heard enough.Iím taking a lunch break.

††††††††††††††††††††††† (grabs purse) Because youíre already out to lunch.Bye!


Emily:†††††††††††††† You mean a commercial break! Just say it!Be honest! †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

You lawyers, you Hollywood people!Youíre all in denial!

††††††††††††††††††††††† Where are those other cameras?I want my free speech!


INSERT COMMERCIAL BREAK.Commercial stops.Voices heard.


Emily:†††††††††††††† Wait a minute.Why arenít there any black people.Or

††††††††††††††††††††††† Asian people in this ad. Got something against minorities?


Producer:†††††††† Thatís not the target audience. Thatís not what consumers

††††††††††††††††††††††† respond to.Now donít insult the commercial sponsors

††††††††††††††††††††††† paying for your airtime, so you can have your free speech!


Emily:†††††††††††††† Why is the only Asian chick on the show a slut?And

††††††††††††††††††††††† when I make a guest appearance, trying to be real,

††††††††††††††††††††††† suddenly Iím a First Amendment fruitcake.Why is that?

††††††††††††††††††††††† Huh?Where is Jesse Jackson when you need him?


Producer:†††††††† Somebody shut her up.Got any ads with mixed families?

††††††††††††††††††††††† Children?A car ad?Something animated.NO PEOPLE!


RUN COMMERCIAL.Sound cuts on and off. Hear arguing, punching.


Ally (in Richardís office):†††††††††† Yes, I locked the door.Canít have her

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† running around the office, screaming about

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† reparations and consent of the governed!

Sheís convinced weíre actors on a TV show!


Richard:††††††††††† We are!And the laws really say those things.Sheís right!


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Shhhh!We canít say that.Weíre not supposed to discuss

††††††††††††††††††††††† any of this.None of it.Not on national network television!


Richard:††††††††††† Itís like the ďEmperorís New Clothes.ĒEveryone runs

††††††††††††††††††††††† around bragging about what a wonderful Constitution we

††††††††††††††††††††††† have.America is the greatest democratic republic in the

††††††††††††††††††††††† world.Ha! Weíre just as messed up as anyone else! Itís

††††††††††††††††††††††† all a lie!The Emperor is naked, and here comes this little

††††††††††††††††††††††† girl, pointing out we donít really have all those wonderful

††††††††††††††††††††††† rights and freedoms we proclaim to uphold for everyone.

††††††††††††††††††††††† And what do we do?Do we admit weíve been lying to

††††††††††††††††††††††† ourselves?No, we tell this little girl sheís a freak.When

††††††††††††††††††††††† we known darned right, sheís telling the truth.Hallelujah!

††††††††††††††††††††††† God Bless America!(he laughs, leans back in his chair)


(telephone rings, he picks it up)†† What? Where are you, Emily?Holy

††††††††††††††††††††††† Cathedral!Ally, sheís climbed out the window.Look!

(he looks out the window, sees Emily on the ledge on a cell phone)

††††††††††††††††††††††† No, no.Stay right there.Iíll, yes, Iíll get the cameras.

††††††††††††††††††††††† Fine.Just donít jump.We donít need a live catastrophe.

††††††††††††††††††††††† Youíll have all the press coverage you want.Just hold on!

(hangs up)††††††† Ally, we gotta think fast!Quick, get John.Go!Hurry!


John hurries down the hall.Cast members crowd him, panicking.


John:††††††††††††††† Calm down, everyone.Quiet!Now this is the plan.From

††††††††††††††††††††††† now on, Iím the quote ďTV director.ĒGot that? Great!

YOU (grabs Woman 1) are ďCamera One.ĒStand right here, directly across,

where she can see you.Let her know weíre hiring minorities.Calm her down some.

Lucy Liu?Whereís Lucy?She thinks youíre a slut.We might need you to start

an argument with her, distract her a little.Till we can get the mental health authorities

on the set.We donít want to call the police or the press at this time.If anyone can

get her family on the phone, maybe they can talk to her.Get her off that ledge.


John talks through the door to Emily sitting on ledge. Light drizzle falls.


John:††††††††††††††† Emily?Itís me, the director.Can we talk for a second?


Emily:†††††††††††††† No, Iím not talking to anyone until I get my free speech.


John:††††††††††††††† Oh, that makes a lot of sense!(bangs his head on wall)


Richard:††††††††††† John!We got a hold of her brother Arthur!Heís going to

††††††††††††††††††††††† call her on her cell phone.If sheíll hang on just a minute!


John:††† ††††††††††† Emily, your brother Arthur is going to call you. Itís not in

††††††††††††††††††††††† the script, but itís really him. Just ad lib, okay? So when

††††††††††††††††††††††† the phone rings, answer it.Ready on the set?Roll it!


The telephone rings.Emily picks it up, in tears, soaking in the rain.


Emily:†††††††††††††† Arthur? No I feel awful. Itís so bad. They wonít listen to me.

††††††††††††††††††††††† They think itís all a big joke.As if people donít matter.

††††††††††††††††††††††† Civil rights, consent, none of that matters.Only money.

††††††††††††††††††††††† Thatís all anyone cares about.I canít live like this.I canít.


Arthurís††††††††††† Youíre doing fine.Youíve made your statement.So let it

voice:†††††††††††††† go.Someone will listen.Can we pray now?Want me to -


Emily:†††††††††††††† I did.I prayed when I wrote the script.But no one wants

††††††††††††††††††††††† to read it, or produce it.They canít follow anything it says.

††††††††††††††††††††††† It goes right over their heads.They think Iím nuts.Am I?


Arthur:††††††††††††† Uh...I take the Fifth Amendment on that.But your heartís in

††††††††††††††††††††††† the right place.People respond to that.Trust me, okay?

††††††††††††††††††††††† I need you to come home.Your friends need you here.

††††††††††††††††††††††† You can win this battle, donít give up now!We can beat

††††††††††††††††††††††† this thing. You gotta come home, weíre all rooting for you!

††††††††††††††††††††††† Emily?Emily are you there!Oh, God, Mom I think she ...


Emily looks up through her tears, to see the white clouds part, as the

sun breaks through.Sunlight streams down on her face, as a little girl.


Emily:†††††††††††††† God?Have I failed?I tried to give them the spirit of the

(as a little††††††††† law.But theyíve forgotten it.Why?Itís so simple.Why

girl crying)††††††† donít they understand?Please open their hearts. Please!††††††

†††††††† †††††††††††††† I canít live in a world where the law says one thing, but

we do something else.I hate it!Take me away, Lord.I want to be with

you.Where people love each other.Where people really listen.Iím so

tired, God.Let me rest.Rock me to sleep.Till I wake in your arms.


The sun floods the sky with a blinding light.John and Richard burst

through the door to find the cell phone on the empty window ledge.

They look down, but there is nothing below.Just everyday traffic.


John:††††††††††††††† Well, where is she?Richard, go down and check.

††††††††††††††††††††††† Maybe sheís in the lunch room.Sheís gotta be --


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Thereís no sign of her, anywhere.Iíve looked.


Richard:††††††††††† There you are, Ally.Whew! We just landed a huge federal

††††††††††††††††††††††† case, and the big boss man wants you on it right away!


Ally:†††††††††††††††† What, not the reparations deal.I am NOT touching that!


John:††††††††††††††† No, concerning the actorsí strike.Antitrust accusations, RICO.

(puzzled)††††††††† Writers conspiring with producers to abridge the equal right to

speech for all actors.Noble cause, huh?Tons of research.


Richard:††††††††††† Yeah, weíre having to expand the library to accommodate it

††††††††††††††††††††††† all.Where you going Ally?Arenít you excited!This is big!


Ally:†††††††††††††††† To look for Emily, Ms. Reparations? Aren't you --

(looks around, everyone on the set is back to normal)


John: Who? (looks at Richard) Emily?

Richard: Reparations? (looks at John) What?


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Yíknow.The ďlandlordís nieceĒ?The civil rights activist?

††††††††††††††††††††††† Oh, thatís right.Youíre not supposed to know.We

††††††††††††††††††††††† shouldnít even be having this conversation, is that it?


John and Richard follow Ally to the door, which is no longer broken in.


Richard:††††††††††† What are you talking about?Something I wasnít told?


John:††††††††††††††† Are you holding out on us, Ally?Címon, Ally, tell us!


Ally looks around.There is no script, no sign of Emily anywhere.


Ally:†††††††††††††††† Who took the script from my desk?It was right here

before I left for lunch.Where is it?Whereís Emily?


John/Richard:††† What script?Whoís Emily?(shake their heads)


Ally:†††††††††††††††† You really donít know what Iím talking about, do you?††


Richard:††††††††††† No.And to tell you frankly.We donít want to know. Bye!


They shut the door.Ally sighs.Looks out the window.Sees a white

dove on the ledge, an olive branch in its beak, flying towards the sun.


| More on Freedmen's Town | Freedmen's Town Index | Political Satire Index | (c) 2001 Houston Progressive Webzine