A famous American theater has cast a black woman as Hamlet. It's not only historic, it looks cool.

In about two minutes, you may think to yourself, "I got to get to Philadelphia!"

Why?

The woman in the above picture is British-African actress Zainab Jah.


(It's pronounced "zay-nub jaw.")

Zainab is a spectacular human who has acted on TV and in movies, but currently she can be seen on stage at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.

She's performing in a production of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." *As* Hamlet.

She's one of the first (actually, at least the second!*) black woman ever to play the conflicted Prince of Denmark, making history in the theater world.

Shakespeare in a new light.

It's also probably the first time a black woman has played Hamlet in anything, anywhere in the professional theater world, but I could be wrong.*

*NOTE (12/16/2015): We were wrong, and we were delighted to note in a previous update (4/27/2015) that actress Melody Garrett shared the role of Hamlet in an all-student production of the play in 1992 at Yale Repertory Theatre. Thanks to Flora Stamatiades, with a confirmation from Yale Repertory's director of communications Steven Padla, we can also correct to note that the 1992 "Hamlet" production was the Yale Rep's season opener and, though performed by students, was a professional theater performance. This article has been amended to reflect this. Have other proof we're wrong? Email hello@upworthy.com!

If Zainab's (or Melody's!) casting catches you a bit off guard, here are two things to realize:

1. Way back in Elizabethan times, when "Hamlet" first was performed at Globe Theater, male actors played the all the female roles.

"Lying for a living" was considered too scandalous for a woman to do.

Lines too unseemly to escape a woman's lips included:

  • Katherine's "My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break," from "Taming of the Shrew."
  • Ophelia's "Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads," from "Hamlet."
  • Juliet's "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" from "Romeo and Juliet."

The truth was not a man's activity ... or something ... I guess?

That makes no sense.

I think we can all agree that was a silly law. The proof is in the receipts:

2. This minority, female-led production already has sold out almost every night of its run:

Wow. Better get a ticket now, if they aren't sold out already! The show ends May 2, 2015!

The play's success is in no small part thanks to Zainab and the rest of the women involved. This classic play is better for having them (and the rest of the cast) there.

And the crew is pretty great, too.

I'll say it again: This production looks so friggin' cool.

The sets incorporate graffiti by a street artist, CERA. Matt Saunders, the set designer, and Vasilija Zivanic, the costume designer, intended to create the feeling of a modern but also corrupt and Elizabethan society.

This helps illustrate the themes of vengeance, corruption, and decay that make "Hamlet" one of the most famous plays in existence.

Director Blanka Zizka cast Zainab for a great reason:

"I knew I needed an actor who possessed great presence and could easily transform onstage," she said.

"I made a list of actors I would like to see working with me and it eventually became very clear to me that Zainab was going to be my Hamlet," Blanka explained.

So, just to be clear, it wasn't to be different.

She chose the best person for the job, who just so happened to be Zainab.

The director also says that in her production, "Hamlet is not going to change gender because he's played by a woman," and she expects that Zainab is "going to transform into Hamlet."

I think she has. But, you can be the judge, too:

Simply put, everything I'm looking at is coolness defined.

Zainab rules the stage. As any prince should. So, go see this badass version of Hamlet!

"Hamlet" runs until May 2, 2015, at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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