Inda Craig-Galván isn’t resting on her laurels—she’s too busy doubting them. In September, Craig-Galván attended the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York, having been chosen as one of four finalists for the Best Screenplay award. At a fanfare brunch on the final day of the festival, she was declared the winner for her script, Fried Catfish, a comedy of errors for the internet age. Ava Duvernay, director of Selma, delivered the ceremony congratulatory speech. But a few days after returning to Los Angeles with trophy in hand, Craig-Galván got an ominous call and doubt crept in: Urbanworld called and asked for the trophy back. This is classic nightmare material, up there with finding yourself naked in school. Fortunately, the call wasn’t as humiliating as she first feared, “They had to engrave it, I thought they just wanted it back.”
Born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, Craig-Galván is an MFA Dramatic Writing student at USC, splitting her time between playwriting and screenwriting. Craig-Galván has worn many masks throughout her life—comic improviser, sketch comedian, actor, and writer—and during our conversation in the Annenberg Media Center she shifts between the serious and the comic with ease. But for someone blessed with versatility, Craig-Galván has a steely focus that she didn’t always have. The pendant on her necklace reads: “Playwright.”
Her journey to the Best Screenplay award was hardly assured; she could have been at sea instead. In 2013, just days before embarking on her degree, Craig-Galván auditioned as an improv performer for a Second City boat tour. Having performed with the likes of Keegan-Michael Key, she was unsure about graduate school and reluctant to abandon the inroads she’d made in the Chicago comedy scene. Then came a disastrous audition from which there was no it-was-just-a-dream reprieve.
“I had quite possibly the worst audition I’ve ever had,” Craig-Galván says. “The one thing they [the Second City instructors] said was ‘Do not cry.’ If you’re a woman, do not go there, don’t do that as a character. And I got up there and I started crying. I left and was like, ‘What was that?’ and I think that it was me subconsciously knowing that was the wrong path—I sabotaged myself.”
Though she cringes when recalling that audition, Craig-Galván looks back on that mortifying experience as a decisive moment in her career, a moment of realization: “I shouldn’t have been running from the thing I should have been doing my whole life. I’d been putting off writing and chasing other dreams, or just working a regular job, or raising kids, and finally realized I want to be a writer, and I want to be a professional writer, and I want a degree, and I want to go out into this career really prepared for it.” Embarrassment giveth and taketh away. This crushing low is now part of Craig-Galván’s writer origin story (all writers have them – they can’t help it.)
If the Second City audition was the inciting incident of her writing career, the seeds were planted years before.
“I remember being in like 7th grade and writing a play and not knowing it was a play. I just wanted to write a version of Cinderella that my all black 7th grade class could perform, so I did an adaptation, and I showed it to my teacher and my class performed it. And then they asked me to do another one in 8th grade.”
Turning to the stage, Craig-Galván’s latest play, Black Super Hero Magic Mama, is wrought from more disturbing subject matter. The play centers on Sabrina Jackson, an African American woman whose 14-year-old son is shot by a white police officer. Instead of grieving her loss, Sabrina turns to fantasy. She becomes a superhero in her mind. “It’s a hard one to write, because I have a son, who was around that age when I started writing it, but I felt I needed to write something to speak to all the instances of all the unanswered killings.” Black Super Hero Magic Mama is set for a reading at the Pasadena Playhouse in the Spring, with a full production at the Trustus Theatre in South Carolina next summer.
When Craig-Galván began working on the project over a year ago, she believed the killings that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to national prominence would eventually abate. “I thought this was going to go away and nobody’s going to want to produce this because it’s going to be recent history, but then the killings kept happening, and kept happening, and sadly keep happening.”
By drawing together the national issue of violence against African Americans and the pop-culture phenomenon of superheroes, Black Super Hero Magic Mama promises to be a play for these times. Through Sabrina Jackson, Craig-Galván explores and extrapolates the role thrust upon recently bereaved black mothers: to be dignified, to promise hope, to soothe the suffering and the angry.
“The secret identity and having to hide who you really are was something that I thought was so unfair for the mothers. They should just be able to grieve, to just stay home but they can’t because immediately they’re thrust in front of cameras and told to make statements and calm the people. If this was me, there would be no calm, there would be rage.”
“Being forced to be the voice of reason for an entire community of people is a ridiculous demand. That really was what I wanted to address: how the media puts it on Sabrina, how everyone puts it on mothers in real life and it’s always the mother. It’s just sad and ridiculous and no one else in that type of situation—your child, god forbid, has a swimming accident or a boating accident, you’re not asked to do that and now they’re in sort of a club. They’re these people who welcome each other into this really sad horrible club and no one else would do that.”
Despite the gravity of the subject, and the strength of her conviction, Craig-Galván promises jokes. “I don’t know how to write something that doesn’t involve humor. I don’t know how to write something funny without serious moments. If I don’t balance both of them then I don’t feel like I’m doing my job.”
A troubling era is about to begin. The next President of the United States is a paragon of bigotry and division. What’s to be done? A little rage, directed, is necessary. Facing up to injustice is necessary, and laughter is necessary too. Inda Craig-Galván knows what she needs to do—just read the pendant around her neck.