In my copious, copious free time, I am picking away at the plot outline for Mrs. Frost, part five of the Mrs. Hawking saga. Among the myriad issues I’m running into— God, writing these plays is hard! —one small one arises that may be representative of the nature of many of the others. Malaika is returning in this story, after being introduced in the previous one, and I’m finding myself at the loss at how to slug her in the script.
“Slugging” refers to the name you use for a character when you indicate that a line is theirs. For example, Victoria Cornelia Stanton Hawking’s lines are slugged with “MRS. HAWKING,” and Mary Frances Stone is “MARY.” Like so:
MRS. HAWKING: One can hide anything from anyone if one so chooses.
MARY: You couldn’t hide it from me.
There are a number of conventions attached to how you decide on a slug, though most people just sort of decide on their own. For example, many people assert that there should be only one, consistently used slug for a character even if what they are referred to as changes, though I chose not to observe that— like I slug the same character alternatively “MRS. HAWKING” in the present day part of Gilded Cages, and “VICTORIA” in the flashback because it felt more accurate to me. Similarly, in those same flashbacks, Malaika is just “MALAIKA,” as she is a young woman and that is what she is commonly referred to as.
In our current conception of Malaika, she is an ethnically Malay Singaporean, which means her name follows the culture’s traditional rules. Malaysian people do not have family surnames but rather patronymics. Her full name is Malaika binti Shah, or Malaika daughter of Shah. While these names are occasionally elided, giving us “Malaika Shah” for example, one is never solely addressed by one’s father’s name. Therefore, while young Victoria would be addressed as “Miss Stanton” by the customs of her culture, Malaika’s would call her “Miss Malaika,” or “Cik Malaika” in her own language. We see an example in the play when Malaika refers to her mother as “Puan Amina,” which is a respectful title for a married woman, basically “Mrs. Amina” or “Madam Amina.”
My concern is with deciding on how to refer to Malaika as a mature adult woman in a way that is on a level with Mrs. Hawking. The characters can in dialogue call each whatever is appropriate to their relationship, but the slugs should indicate their positions in their world. Even though Malaika is not from a culture that would call her by a different part of her name in order to be respectful, I’m worried it will sound disrespectful to our modern American ears to see her referred to by her first name when her peer Mrs. Hawking is called by the formal title.
What I am currently leaning towards is making a point of having her known as “Madam Malaika.” It would take into account the customs of her culture, while utilizing a title that my American audience would recognize as one of respect. The naming convention might still make hers seem like the odd one out, but it takes care not to even implicitly suggest she’s not on a level with story’s other women in her age group, even if only because the audience doesn’t know the custom. Perhaps I could even make it text, such as have someone mistakenly refer to her as “Mrs. Shah” and she corrects them to make the distinction clear.
It’s a small detail. But I want to be very, very careful about how I frame this character. I know how easy it is to create disrespectful portrayals of minority characters, and I want to always put in the work to make mine the fullest, most human figures I can. This is one of the many ways I can show that thoughtfulness and care.
Mrs. Hawking part III: Base Instruments and part IV: Gilded Cages by Phoebe Roberts and Bernie Gabin will be performed at 2PM and 6PM respectively on Saturday, May 12th at the New England School of Photography at 274 Moody Street in Waltham, MA as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’18.
To donate to the Mrs. Hawking – Proof of Concept film project: