She Will Make Noise: A Review of Hot Brown Honey
The Hot Brown Honeys are fierce and with the music booming and a middle finger raised, they are here to make noise and to re-educate the patriarchal, colonial masses. Madeleine De Young reviews Hot Brown Honey.
When we are small we are taught to categorise - to understand the world through absolutes - the seven colours of the rainbow, the difference between circles and squares, the precise pronunciation of our a-b-c’s. It’s a rudimentary introduction to the world that becomes more fully coloured, more complicated as we grow. At least for some of us. Some of us grow up seeing people who look like us playing doctors, artists, builders, accountants - doing any damn thing we like on screen, in books and on the stage. Some of us can count the number of times that they’ve seen someone who looks like them on the fingers of their hands. Some can say never - I have never been represented in a public space.
The danger of a lack of representation as described by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is that a single story can become the definitive story of an entire group of people.
Hot Brown Honey tears the idea of the single story to shreds, no longer are brown women maids, victims, curiosities or goddamn golliwogs. They are not stereotypes, they are not polite - they will not smile and nod to set you at ease. The Hot Brown Honeys are fierce and with the music booming and a middle finger raised, they are here to make noise and to re-educate the patriarchal, colonial masses.
Coming to Aotearoa from Australia, Hot Brown Honey is a fiercely political comedic cabaret led by Busty Beatz (South Africa) and performed by a multicultural cast of brown women - Lisa Fa’alafi (Samoa), Ofa Fotu (Tonga), Matehaere Hope 'Hope One' Haami (Māori), Ghenoa Gela (Torres Strait Islander) and Crystal Stacey (Indonesian). To mention their individual cultural origins is not to specify ‘where they are really from’ but to expose the vast range of cultural identities and experiences shared by brown women around the world. In Hot Brown Honey, these identities mesh and mould in a multi-scene exploration of brown experiences.
Each scene has a strong provocation - whether it’s a rewrite of the myth of the ‘Polynesian Princess’, a call out to Australians on holiday or a command to leave hair that does not sit on your own head alone.
In the ‘Polynesian Princess’ scene, Lisa Fa’alafi transforms the docile picture of women of the islands into a commanding force as Siva Samoa meets Hip Hop and lavalava meets high fashion. The swift costume transformations and even swifter dance moves pulse with attitude - middle fingers, bared teeth, huge smiles. At the top of this scene we hear an archival recording describing the skills of Samoan women being as weavers, as Samoan wives. At the scene’s conclusion there is no denying that this woman is much more than a weaver or a wife. She is a fierce woman and that can be whatever she likes.
This plays in strong contrast to Crystal Stacey’s call out of the white and wasted on tour. Donning a barely there Australian flag bikini, bleach blonde wig and sparkly drink bottle she hula hoops, twerks and splays herself around the stage, occasionally reaching out to ‘the maid’ for refills. Where Fa’alafi is self aware and powerful for it, Stacey’s character is completely oblivious to the people around her - the people of the land that she is visiting.
This is common throughout the scenes that the Honeys portray. Brown women historically have less agency when it comes to their movements - as Indigenous peoples, descendant from slave peoples, refugee peoples and the like. Things are done to rather than with or by - as seen in the hair scene. When would you ever think it right to physically handle another person’s body without an invitation? For brown and black women, being stroked, teased or prodded is a disturbingly frequent experience.
As the cast work through these issues, they actively reframe the single stories that have influenced their lives and the lives of those around them. By taking control of the story they flip the switch on the idea of the docile and hypersexual Polynesian Princess, they call out the white and wasted tourists and lay the smack down on touching someone’s hair (don’t even try). These women are not the victims of their oppressors - they are wāhine toa using the power of the stage to share their vision of mana motuhake for them all.
Sitting atop a giant hive, MC Busty Beatz is our guide - challenging each and every audience member to rise up and make noise. Through her invitation, the audience is allowed to be complicit in the jokes that Hot Brown Honey abounds in. With the pumping music and the explicit satirical takedowns of everyday ‘isms, you can’t help but laugh until you cry and then cry until you laugh again, all while tapping your feet and wriggling your hips and your bum in your seat.
It may seem ludicrous to have such a good time amidst topics that have caused so much pain - but it is cathartic in this time of news that is stranger than fiction to have a damn good laugh at the absurdity that is our reality. Because when you make racism, colonialism, sexism, fascism - all the ‘isms - ridiculous, they begins to lose its legitimacy. When you have a whole room of people roaring with laughter at the absurdity of a Polynesian woman’s sole worth being in her ability to weave - it all feels a little bit better. When you have a whole room of people who were roaring with laughter a minute earlier, stand in solidarity with a woman experiencing intimate partner violence, you know that there are people on the same side as you.
In the words of Audre Lorde - which are blasted across the stage - ‘We do this for the women who do not speak. Silence will not save us.’ Hot Brown Honey is a rip-roaring night of entertainment, laughter and dancing - but it’s also a rallying call.
We will make noise.
Hot Brown Honey runs at
The ASB Theatre, Auckland
until Saturday 18 February
For tickets to Hot Brown Honey, go here