Mélia Mills Spins Comic Gold from Teen-age Traumas
by Robert M. Gardner
Mélia Mills, a charming, funny young woman from Oakland, takes us back to her teenage world. As an aspiring rapper from a middle-class family, she resents her boojee status. One mean girl calls her a “book bitch” because she’s a good student.
With great storytelling, Mills gives us a humorous and honest look into the life of a wannabe thug. She dives into Oakland’s Black culture and finds that the road to success for black youth, already hard, follows a twisted path. How can a young black student succeed when other kids want to keep you down? But she enchants us with her beautiful smile and spirit—the spirit of Oakland.
She was 15, and newly enrolled at Skyline High School during the rise of West Coast Hip Hop. Mills wears a red T-shirt that boasts “I Hekka Love Oakland!” She sports “Hekka” because her parents have banned “Hella.”
With delightful pride and charm, Mills lists accomplishments of Black culture in Oakland—the Hyphy movement, West Coast Hip Hop, and especially Tupac Shakur. His photo graces the wall of her bedroom and she prays to him every night, longing for thug creds.
Mélia falls for Rashid Rashad Rahim, who is as illiterate as she is well read; but he looks fine and organizes “Sideshows.” He says he carries a gun only for protection. His dangerous traits don’t matter to her; she is thrilled just to wear his gold chain. Flaunting the law becomes her cry of defiance, too.
Mélia is teased for using words like “egregious,” and for having food allergies. She raps, “Lactose intolerant, glucose intolerant, all kinds of intolerant.” Her poorer classmates cannot afford middle-class allergies.
Mélia is full of angst and doubts. She needs to find a way to fit in or face daily rejection from white and Black. She says her family was like Bill Cosby’s before we knew the truth about Bill Cosby.
Her parents come from Compton and Watts; they don’t want their daughter to slip into the “thug” life in OakTown. Disobeying her parents, Mélia sneaks out to compete in a rap contest, believing that’s the only way she can fit in. She struggles between being a good student and suffering the taunts of her gangsta peers–evoking hearty laughter from her mistakes.
Her story illustrates the problem in achieving success in Inner City schools. Tormented by the group she wants to join, she yearns for youth culture more than success in the white world. Her witty stories touch our hearts.
Mélia Mills is a force of nature, exposing her fragility as a young Black girl and demonstrating her considerable talents. Her honesty is inspiring. She takes us on a surprising journey and lifts our spirits, making both her family and Tupac proud! A pleasure to take the trip with her.
“The Allure of Thug Life” –written & performed by Mélia Mills, solo coach Heather Dowling, QLab Ted Harris, at The Marsh, Berkeley. Info: themarsh.org – to November 11, 2023.
Cast: Mélia Mills
Banner photo: Mélia Mills. Broadway Photo/Video