Selina Thompson's “salt: dispersed” is a powerful document of her monologue retracing the transatlantic slave route forced on her ancestors
In 2016, Selina Thompson, an interdisciplinary artist based in Birmingham, England, went on a journey to retrace the path of her ancestors. That path was that of the transatlantic slave trade.
The writer and performer recounts her trip in salt, a monologue she first performed in 2017, and now in salt: dispersed, the film adaptation of her stage presentation. UMS is streaming the film for free through February 13 as part of its Renegade Festival's No Safety Net series, which focuses on theater and art installations.
Thompson's mission started in the U.K., boarding a cargo ship with another Black female artist, and discovering a story so powerful it takes the air out of your lungs.
The cargo ship is run by a racist white man who insists on being called The Master, Italian officers who continuously use the N-word, and a crew from the Philippines who do not speak English. It is a long journey from Europe to Africa, in a cramped room with no window, no fresh air, and the inability to go out on the deck whenever they please. It is torture, it is grueling, and the picture that Thompson paints with her words is so crystal clear that it’s as if you are on that ship with her.
Their first stop is Ghana, and the Elmina castle, where Africans were pushed onto cargo ships to become slaves in the Caribbean and Americas. From there they journey to Jamaica, the birth nation of Thompson’s biological parents, Rastafarians who moved to the U.K. when they were 13. Thompson was adopted by a couple in the U.K. that was from Jamaica and Montserrat, respectively. Thompson, her adopted parents, and her biological parents are all descendants of enslaved people. Retracing the triangular path of her family brings a storm of different emotions, questions, and self-discoveries.
Thompson is an absolutely captivating storyteller and her performance is incredibly raw. Listening to the continual racism she faced, living in the same country that enslaved her ancestors, is heartbreaking and, unfortunately, not surprising. Director Wendy Yee Man Wong does a wonderful job of focusing on the story with simplistic editing and an emphasis on Thompson’s vulnerability.
The performance kept me in rapt attention throughout its 65 minutes with the force of Thompson’s words landing again and again. She goes into great detail about the inner conflicts the trip unearths, her search for identity, and the meaning of home. Thompson has frequent phone calls throughout the journey with her father, and she tells him tale after tale to which he usually replies, “Did anyone else see that? Or just you?” His continual skepticism of her stories, which absolutely come across as gaslighting, propel her narrative that the struggle of the Black community is constantly questioned and downplayed.
salt: dispersed is absolutely a must-watch. It will leave you upset at the world, but that's the point. Even better, it is free to watch so you have no excuses. You’ll be kicking yourself if you miss it.
Marley Boone is a theatre professional that has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she would write theatre reviews for DC Metro Arts.