I CAN DO ANYTHING. I can be anything. No one ever told me I couldn’t. No one ever expressed this idea that I was limited to any one thing, and so i think in terms of what’s possible, not impossible.
They did sell me the notion of reality. That I got. I got the laws of physics and nature pretty much down and knew early on there were very specific things I couldn’t do. I knew I could never make anyone float, or turn water into wine, or make cats speak French.
I knew I couldn’t bring people back from the dead. I got that part of it. But I also knew that if I was with someone who had lost somebody I might be able to make them feel better. I couldn’t keep someone’s house from burning down, but I could help them sort through the rubble and get their shit together and start in on another one. So I realized I wasn’t God, which was a slight disappointment, you know. Just a slight disappointment–and a mild suprise.
Movies were my first window to the outside world, and they told me stuff. They told me I could go anywhere, be whatever I wanted, solve any damn puzzle. The right movie was my ticket to any place I wanted to go. But it had to be the right movie, and it had to come from the right place, ’cause I had to bank on it being historically accurate. See, in sch, nobody talked about black people unless they had us picking cotton. Who knew there were free blacks? Maybe you heard about Frederick Douglass, but you didn’t really knew about Frederick Douglass. You couldn’t always trust the history books. They told diluted truth, truth by committee. It was only later that I learned that there was something missing in what went down with the landed Americans and the indigenous people of this country. In movies too. They didn’t always get the story right, especially when it came to our nonwhite history. You knew the Indians didn’t look like Jeffery Hunter, but you didn’t know what they really looked like either. It was a great mystery. There weren’t too many Indians in my Catholic school in New York, so you had to use your imagination a bit.
In my head, Queen Elizabeth was just like Bette Davis. That’s how I saw her. She walked and talked and proofed–made grand statements in staccato sentences. Movies opened doors to a lot of things for me for every one they opened another one closed. The casting always messed with the way I saw it. It changed the terms. In this way, books were more liberating, more magical, and so I started to read. To really read. Books opened the mind to all kinds of possibilities. There was nothing on Dickens to leave you thinking there were no black people in England, or that Bob Cratchit didn’t pass you on the street every single day. But movies made you believe there were no black people, except the ones who were picking cotton, or tap-dancing up a flight of stairs, or birthin’ babies. When I was little this didn’t strike me as odd, but as I grew up, all during the 1960s, it bothered the *#@*! out of me. I knew there had to be more to us than that. Now I know there are all-black movies, but gumshoes and heroes, cowboys and harlots, but these were not shown on the Million Dollar Movie, and when I started to figure this out I realized life was what we put in and took out, and we were all in the same soup. Indians, blacks, Asians, women…It never even occurred to me that Emma wasn’t black. It wasn’t apart of the equation. Why shouldn’t we have been in a Jane Austen situation?
Why wouldn’t we have been in a manor house in a Dickens novel? Why couldn’t we have been the light in the forest? And don’t tell me Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t have me in mind when he wrote Treasure Island, because, you know, even the Muppets understand this notion.
Daydreaming, I used to think I was Sherlock Holmes; it’s a part I’ve always wanted to play. If you’re the most brilliant detective, the people will come to you. They won’t care if you’re black, or a woman. It might even give the story some new dimensions. The Speckled Band, staring Whoopi Goldberg. I like it!
This–the possibility–is why I took on acting as such a joyous thing. As I write this, I’m appearing eight times a week, on Broadway, in a part originally written for a man, but you’d never know, right? If you come to a thing with no preconceived notions of what that thing is, the whole world can be your canvas. Just dream it, and you can make it so. I believe I belong wherever I want to be, in whatever situation or context I place myself. I believed I could pass as an ancient Roman in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I believed a little girl could rise from a single-parent household in the Manhattan projects, start a single-parent household of her own, struggle through seven years of welfare and odd jobs, and still wind up making movies. You can go from anonymity to Planet Hollywood and never lose sight of where you’ve been.
So, yeah, I think anything is possible. I know it because I’ve lived it. I know it because I have seen it. I have witnessed things the ancients would have called miracles, but they are not miracles. They are the products of someone’s dream, and they happen as the result of hard work. Or they happen because, you know, [stuff] happens. As human beings, we are capable of creating a paradise, and making each others’ lives better by our own hands. Yes, yes, yes…this is possible.
If something hasn’t happened, it’s not because it can’t happen, or won’t; it just hasn’t happened yet. If I haven’t done something, I just haven’t gotten around to it. For a long time, I wanted to sit with Stephen Hawking and have him explain all of his theories to me so that I could understand them and build on them and find ways to adapt them to my own life. But I never got around to that. I would like to be a diplomat in some foreign country for a couple of months. I would like to play for the Knicks, and dance with Alvin Ailey, and ride a camel down Sunset Boulevard. I would like to find a way to stop famine, and to free the children from the orphanages in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Romania, and here at home. I would like to do a lot of things. All I need is Time.
- From Dream by Whoopi Goldberg