Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: See John Clarence Stewart Perform 'Black Man in a White World'
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist will be singing another powerful tune in Tuesday's episode. But this one will be unlike any fans have seen before.
As we saw last week, when a new piece of SPRQPoint's facial recognition tech is discovered to have a disproportionally high error rate recognizing people of color, Simon (John Clarence Stewart), the company's spokesperson, is asked to defend the company publicly. Instead, he throws away his press conference script and tells the truth, pointing out the considerable lack of people of color holding leadership positions at the company.
This week, he'll contend with the repercussions of that speech and many of the show's central characters will have difficult conversations about race and identity.
In the exclusive clip above, Zoey (Jane Levy) sees Simon perform an emotional heartsong to "Black Man in a White World," by Michael Kiwanuka.
"'Black Man in a White World' is my favorite song that I've performed on Zoey's. In fact, it's the highlight of my career thus far," Stewart tells PEOPLE. "The process was collaborative and we all felt a shared sense of responsibility and duty to tell the potentially triggering truth. For me in particular, this song/dance is both personal and spiritual. It embodies at times, my traumatic experience moving through the world as a Black man, and echoes the experience of many Black and brown people navigating white spaces on the regular."
Stewart concludes with an important reminder: "This episode has come in a porous time, and my hope is that it serves as a mirror wherein people see themselves, and an admonishment for the continued work of anti-racism on a personal and systemic level. It's not supposed to be comfortable."
Emmy-nominated choreographer Luther Brown worked in partnership with the show's choreographer, Mandy Moore, to build on Stewart's moving musical performance.
"Choreographing this number became for me an embodied experience of the dualities of Blackness in white America," Brown tells PEOPLE. "The song was perfect and John delivered an effortless performance."
The episode was written by Zora Bikangaga and directed by Anya Adams.
Each of the four songs featured in the episode was originally sung by Black artists, and are performed in the show by people of color to illustrate the different effects of systemic racism and biases.
The Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist midseason finale airs Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. The show will return for more new episodes on March 28.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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