Rebel Yell: Celebrating Broadway Sensation Jordan E. Cooper
This feature is in the December "The Creators" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
Jordan Cooper PHOTO BY MORRISDE
Jordan E. Cooper (@jordanecooper) was born in 1995. In the same year, a certain retired basketball superstar of the same name returned to the NBA. Although Cooper is not a hoops star, juggling his numerous jobs requires some athleticism.
In 2021, at 26, Cooper created The Ms. Pat Show for BET +. Helming the show made him the youngest Black showrunner in television history. Now, at 27, his Obie Award-winning play, Ain’t No Mo’ (a frantic exploration of the value of Black life in America), has opened at New York City’s Belasco Theatre, making him the youngest playwright in Broadway history. Cooper recently received the Emerging Creatives Award at the inaugural African American Film Critics Association’s (AAFCA) Salute to Broadway Awards. His speech was an unapologetic yet tender rebel yell that he deemed “his manifesto.”
From Jordan E. Cooper:
“Sometimes, you get so settled in doing the thing that you forget to stop and realize what you’ve done so far, and hearing it, you think, ‘Oh, God is amazing.’ I’m so incredibly grateful to AAFCA for recognizing me, and to be among these amazing honorees is insane.
Ain’t No Mo’ producer Lee Daniels PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN KIM
I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of the Broadway community this season. I was a kid when I first moved here in 2014 to attend school. I used to do my plays still, but I would do them in classrooms, I would do them in rec centers, I would do them all over, and I would pass out flyers outside of Broadway theaters to try to get people to come and see my show. They didn’t give a damn, but it still was a method of making sure that people got to hear the story.
That’s really what it’s about: making sure people hear the stories.
Now, I’m glad that over a thousand people can hear the story eight times a week and see me telling it, so that’s cool. I also wanted to remind myself, even now, of why I do it and do the work, and I wrote down a few words. Over the past few years, I’ve been writing, trying to write manifesto for myself of WHY.
The play’s director Stevie Walker-Webb. PHOTO BY SEBASTIAN KIM
Remembering the why, no matter where you are or what comes, remembering the why.
I would love to share that manifesto with y’all of why I work:
I want the person in the back of the line to have their presence and importance felt in the front of the line. I want to shout from a mountaintop that thing that Granny wouldn’t let me say. I like the wound inside of me to know that the person who made it is human too. I want my niece to know that too much God lives in her midnight skin, not to praise it.
I want never to be too financially comfortable that I become comfortable with not saying the uncomfortable. I want my uncomfortable to be my uncomfortable and not one that’s just a selling point to get rich white people in seats who get off on being uncomfortable.
I want to remain a soldier in the army of the Lord. I want to remain a soldier in the army of Blackness. I want to remain a soldier in the army of [songs] ‘Knuck If You Buck,’ ‘Never Too Much,’ ‘Before I Let Go’ and everyone else who’s played at the family cookout.
Jordan Cooper JORDAN COOPER PHOTO BY MORRISDE
I want to remain a soldier to the boy who thought the Lord hated his want to love another boy.
I want to remain a soldier in the army of ‘Not giving one ounce of a damn.’
I want to let the theater be the church it is meant to be. Let the theater know that they can shout when they want to shout. I want to let the theater know that Black women make the air we breathe in. I want to let the theater know that white people ain’t got to be in everything.
Let the theater know that it doesn’t always have to look like a theater.
I want to let the theater know that my great, great, great, great uncle, who was lynched by the clan, is also in the house tonight to have a good time.
I want to let the theater know that it’s OK to ‘Shake Your Ass and Watch Yourself.’ I want to let the theater know that chitlins can be served on fine china.
I want my soul to know that me and God still have a lot of work to do.
I want my soul to know that it’s OK to cry sometimes and that my characters will cry for me when I run out of tears.
I want my soul to know that God is also in the struggle. I want my soul to know that it has permission to move to the front of the line.”