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Theatre / Fetch Clay, Make Man

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Fetch Clay, Make Man is a stage play written by Will Power and first performed in 2010.

The play is inspired by the Real Life relationship between Muhammad Ali, the famous boxer, and actor/comedian Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry (aka Stepin Fetchit), on the eve of Ali's 1965 defense of his heavyweight championship against Sonny Liston.

Ray Fisher notably performed as Ali in the play in 2013 and 2023.

Fetch Clay, Make Man contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Ali is not really happy to learn that Sonji's father was a fan of Stepin Fetchit's movies.
  • Converting for Love: Sonji converted to Islam for Ali and wears appropriate clothing to cover her hair. After an argument with Fetchit, who calls her out on perceived hypocrisy, she asserts her right to her own identity and starts wearing a short skirt and heels, which angers Ali.
  • Cult: Cassius Clay joined Nation of Islam and became Muhammad Ali. Tensions arise between Ali and loyalist Brother Rashid when the latter pushes the former to give more prominence to the importance of Muslim thinking in his life when he's interviewed.
  • Epunymous Title: The title plays with the names of the protagonists (stage name in Fetchit's case).
  • Flashback: The play contains a scene set in the 20s with Fetchit negociating a contract with the paternalistic film producer William Fox.
  • Friendly Address Privileges: By 1964, Cassius Clay had already changed his name to "Muhammad Ali". His wife still calls him by his old name in 1965.
  • Moment Killer: As Ali and his wife Sonji are about to kiss, Fetchit ruins the moment with a very audible throat clearing.
  • N-Word Privileges: Ali vigorously answers to Fetchit's rather liberal use of the N-word.
    Fetchit: If you are a negro, you are going down!
  • Odd Friendship: Muhammad Ali, a high-profile figure of racial pride for African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement, is friends with Stepin Fetchit, a comedian whose comedic routine in The '30s is often perceived as a humiliating/embarrassing racial stereotype (and indeed was the subject of racist parody in popular media).
  • Signature Move: Ali turns to Fetchit because he knows that Fetchit was an intimate friend of the great boxing champion John Arthur "Jack" Johnson. Ali is searching for the knowledge of a legendary attack called the "Anchor Punch" that he believes might have been entrusted to Fetchit.
  • Slave to PR: Fetchit's reputation was sharply declining in the '60s thanks to his "Laziest Man in the World" character being increasingly recognized as an anti-Black stereotype. In the play, he is eager to rehabilitate his image by linking himself with an African-American figure who embodies self-determination.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Ali is on the idealistic end, aiming for self-determination, pride and dignity. Fetchit is more on the cynical side of things, having had a widely different way of life.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: In-Universe, Ali calls Fetchit out on his infamous "Laziest Man in the World" roles-turned-stereotype, which made him a rich man but makes people cringe when hearing his name nowadays.
  • You Owe Me: Reflecting on his controversial role in history (he was the first African-American performer to earn a million dollars, but at the price of compromising with paternalistic and racist producers who would only accept him in Uncle Tomfoolery stereotyped roles), Fetchit tells Ali "I snuck in the back door so you could walk in the front."