October 15, 2021

"Students said they sat in stunned silence as [Laurence] Olivier appeared onscreen in thickly painted blackface makeup."

"Even before class ended 90 minutes later, group chat messages were flying, along with at least one email of complaint to the department reporting that many students were 'incredibly offended both by this video and by the lack of explanation as to why this was selected for our class.' Within hours, Professor Sheng had sent a terse email issuing the first of what would be two apologies. Then, after weeks of emails, open letters and canceled classes, it was announced on Oct. 1 that Professor Sheng — a two-time Pulitzer finalist and winner of a MacArthur 'genius' grant— was voluntarily stepping back from the class entirely, in order to allow for a 'positive learning environment.'...  'Of course, facing criticism for my misjudgment as a professor here is nothing like the experience that many Chinese professors faced during the Cultural Revolution,' he wrote. 'But it feels uncomfortable that we live in an era where people can attempt to destroy the career and reputation of others with public denunciation. I am not too old to learn, and this mistake has taught me much.'...  The Olivier film was controversial even when it was new. Writing in The New York Times, the critic Bosley Crowther expressed shock that Olivier 'plays Othello in blackface,' noting his 'wig of kinky black hair,' his lips 'smeared and thickened with a startling raspberry red' and his exaggerated accent, which he described as reminiscent of 'Amos ‘n’ Andy.' (To 'the sensitive American viewer,' Crowther wrote, Olivier looked like someone in a 'minstrel show.')"

See for yourself:

112 comments:

Narayanan said...

Why not CGI Idris face in

wendybar said...

Grow up. Haven't they seen Jimmy Kimmel in black face?? Sarah Silverman?? Ted Danson?? Governor Ralph Northam?? Prime Minister Trudeau??? Fred Armisen??? Dan Aykroyd?? Jack Black?? ect....ect.....ect.....Why haven't they CANCELLED any of the above??? Because they are progressives. They can do and say whatever they want without any consequences.

gilbar said...

People need to realize, that reeducation camp is for their own good.
Only by admitting their beurgousis faults, can people realize HOW EVIL america is
DEATH TO AMERICA
LONG LIVE BIG BROTHER!!!

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

College courses I'd like to take. So I can keep up.

Fainting couch 101
How to be offended by anything an everything 101
Why it's important to erase history - it's just so offensive! 101
Speech codes and Speech Crimes - a look into the brilliance of the Soviet system 101
Chinese Communism is your friend 101

full load.

Kai Akker said...

McCarthyism in 3D

Owen said...

Pearls before swine. I vaguely remember Olivier in this production and this moronic little drama has spurred me to seek a reprise so I can appreciate anew his talent and Shakespeare’s magnificent text.

Bryan Townsend said...

I have known this film for several decades and have always thought it was a very fine version of the play. I can see why people in the US might be upset, though they should perhaps take into account that Olivier is ACTING. One of the things that impressed me in his characterization was his use of body language. This whole controversy reflects very badly, not on Olivier or Professor Sheng, but on the colossal ignorance of the students and the cowardice of the administration.

Two-eyed Jack said...

What about Olivier in 1966's Khartoum?

https://youtu.be/nZL_TOV9-m0

The excitement among "students," sensing a way to destroy a man who many of their fellow students feel honored to have as a professor, based upon the make-up choices in a movie filmed a half century ago, must be almost too much to bear.

For an administrator to bring that excitement to its culmination and to humiliate a man of genuine accomplishment must be almost unendurably stimulating. A career redeemed.

Oh, to be young and hypereducated!

Readering said...

I remember being shocked seeing Olivier on screen in blackface at a school screening in 1973. I also remember being so impressed that I sat through a second screening. But it was in Britain where the Black and White Minstrel Show was still a weekly TV hit.

ga6 said...

Students need to grow up. They are acting like their woke parents.

TreeJoe said...

When I was in undergrad and graduate school not that long ago, the way you were taught different perspectives, historical understanding, ethics, and debate was....

- You were shown different perspectives
- You were shown and discussed things with a context of historical understanding and perspective
- You were forced to argue the ethics and merits of each side of an argument including those you find abhorrent

Is ANY of that happening anymore? I feel like now it's about arguing the same side but arguing whether one person is extreme enough. And that's considered debate.


Joe said...

So how good/important/illustrative is the music in the film?

I would guess that the music professor told the students EXACTLY why “this was selected for our class.'” And they didn’t listen.

PM said...

In the 1830s, the noted American black actor, Ira Aldridge, wore whiteface to play the title role in Shakespeare's Richard III, and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. For those performances, he had to go to England.

Charlie said...

I understand how using blackface to make fun of Blacks should be condemned, but I would like to hear someone explain why blackface is intrinsically shocking or insulting. Actors are always adopting accents that are not their own, or dressing in period costumes to portray people who lived in the past or the future. They use prosthetics to change their appearance, even to the point of appearing to be limbless when they are not. They have bizarre synthetic "skins" glued to their bodies to appear to be non-human. Olivier was in blackface because Othello is described as a Moor. Why is that shocking? Why has that become a triggering opportunity to express indignation? Indignation over what?

Michael K said...

Snowflakes melting.

SteveSc said...

Life is tough. Wear a cup, buttercup.....

Mike Sylwester said...

The students sat in stunned silence!

Why didn't they stand up and protest loudly?

Earlier generations commuted to work on foot, rather than ride segregated buses in Montgomery.

Earlier generations braved the firehoses and police dogs in Birmingham.

Earlier generations defied the order not to cross the bridge in Selma.

In contrast, this current, inferior generation sits silently while a racist professor shows a racist movie in Detroit.

Big Mike said...

FFS, it’s Sir Laurence Olivier in one of his most famous roles. They will never see Othello played better.

Deevs said...

"...noting his 'wig of kinky black hair,' his lips 'smeared and thickened with a startling raspberry red' and his exaggerated accent, which he described as reminiscent of 'Amos ‘n’ Andy.'"

I watched the clip. I couldn't make out raspberry red lips and I wouldn't describe his accent as resembling Amos 'n' Andy. Regardless, the mention of the wig got me thinking. Is blackface more or less offensive with a wig resembling natural black hair?

pdug said...

uh, i dont see any "raspberry red" and his accent is nothing like Amos & Andy.

JOB said...

Turnabout, fair play and all that... I suppose if Olivier can play Othamlet, then perhaps Washington can play Macthello...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUc3ZJAPK18

JAORE said...

I saw this extraordinary performance in a theater. Full disclosure it was for extra credit in a class.

To think this ART will be ash canned by the non-existent damage done to the world of 2021.

Criminal.

M said...

Othello is specified as being a black Moor It is a wide spread misconception that all Moors were black, as in sub Saharan African ancestry, most weren’t. Maybe the class should have had a problem with that? That Europeans misrepresented the Moors to the point modern black Americans think they have Moorish ancestors.

Laurence Olivier is one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of all time. Of course he would wear makeup to play the General as written. Is there another actor that can hold a candle to Olivier? Lol. No. Not from his time and certainly not from ours.

Kevin said...

'Of course, facing criticism for my misjudgment as a professor here is nothing like the experience that many Chinese professors faced during the Cultural Revolution,' he wrote.

But we're nothing if not well on our way.

Kevin said...

These are the hyper-educated people you've been warned about.

rcocean said...

Again, people are focusing on the wrong group. Its not the students. They're just brainwashed puppets. Its the College adminstrators who let these left-wing students run wild. This nonsense could be stopped in a nanosecond, if the College President and his flunkeys supported the Professors.

Its like Pelosi/Biden and Antifa. They supported BLM/Antifa riots and looting and would say "There is no Antifa. Its just an idea". The same is true of the College Presidents. They SUPPORT this Mau-Mauing and struggle session nonsense. But they pretend its just a bunch of rando students "speaking truth to power".

As Olivier's Othello, I thought he did a much better job than Orson Welles. I think its the best version of Othello on film. The Movie was low budget but very well done. As for Bosely Crowther he exaggerated Olivier's Make-up. I think Sir Larry looks like a Moor, Arab/negro. Didn't see anything wrong with it.

Quaestor said...

Othello wasn't the only instance of Olivier in blackface. He wore it again in the 1966 epic Khartoum. He co-starred with Charlton Heston as the Sudanese rebel leader known as the Mahdi and General Charles "Chinese" Gordon respectively.

There is no known authentic image of Muhammad Ahmad, a Nubian preacher, though the British press portrayed him as having a dark complexion and a handsomely formed face, so the makeup job on Olivier was quite reasonable given what little is known.

However, Olivier's blackface in his 1965 Othello is not reasonable. The character is described as a Moor, i.e. a Berber. The Berber ethnicity traces back into classical antiquity. They inhabited much of the North African coast west of Egypt, and though they were certainly dark-complexioned when compared to Europeans, they were not coal-black like Olivier's Moor of Venice. The Roman playwright Terence (Publius Terentius Afer) was a Berber, and no contemporary source describes him as black, only dark. Besides being historically questionable, Olivier's makeup is frankly ugly in its greasiness. Here's Orson Welles in his Othello makeup, which I consider beautiful.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Maggie Smith was smoking hot back in the day.

On a more serious note, I'm not surprised the kids were shocked, nor am I surprised that a Chinese immigrant isn't aware of every nuance of modern American culture. Perhaps a little slack could be given?

Anyway, a quick look at imdb.com shows Othello played by Orson Welles and various other white dudes in the olden times. I

Ice Nine said...

I never heard Amos ‘n’ Andy talk like that. Not by a damn sight.

FWBuff said...

Well, I don't agree with Bosley Crowther or the snowflake students at Michigan. Olivier's make-up wasn't like a minstrel show; on the contrary, it was remarkable how well-done it was. The most off-putting thing about that clip was Olivier's over-acting, but that was a feature of Olivier the hammy actor and not of his make-up. For a better actor (but worse make-up), they should have watched Orson Welles's version.

And hello, Maggie Smith as Desdemona! She is and always has been a marvelous actress.

rhhardin said...

The Amos'n'Andy guys were black, at least on TV. The radio ones might have been white but they wouldn't have been in blackface.

They were no more stereotyped negatively than white guys are today on TV.

I haven't a clue what the offense is about except as virtue signalling and a declaration that black people are sacred objects today. It's a blasphemy offense with black guys, but not with white guys.

Nor do I understand the apologizing that surrounds it. What kind of morons are teaching these days that they can't do a bit of analysis, such as used to be found in lit crit.

Good vs bad readings.

rhhardin said...

Coleridge mocked new morality by calling them "moral discoveries," morality being eternal.

daskol said...

How can we even -countenance letting such a film existing?

Chris Lopes said...

There is a difference between a minstrel show making fun of black people and a Shakespearean actor portraying a black man of dignity and grace. Context is everything.

PB said...

Was drinking silver-nitrate part of the story?

sykes.1 said...

'wig of kinky black hair,' his lips 'smeared and thickened with a startling raspberry red' and his exaggerated accent, which he described as reminiscent of 'Amos ‘n’ Andy.'

I agree that black face is wrong, but that is because Othello is not black. He is Moor. These are dark-skinned, brown not black, Caucasians who live on the north coast of Africa. Almost all the inhabitants north of the Sahara are genetically Caucasian, despite skin tone.

The accent is pretty much upper class British, not American black, certainly not Amos 'n Andy. (A show I watched as a teen, and which was quite funny and good no way derogatory to blacks.)

The hair is not an Afro by any means, and it is common among Moors, Semites, Egyptians.

The critic obviously has not seen the film, and has never heard an upper class Englishman speak.

William said...

I saw the film sometime back. Olivier claimed that he used the blackface and indeed some of his mannerisms in the performance not to imitate generic black people but rather to specifically imitate Paul Robeson whose performance of Othello he admired....So far as I remember, there's nothing in the performance that inspires hatred or contempt for Black people. Styles change. It's an outmoded way of performing but there's no conscious or intentional malice in it.....The current way Shakespearean directors depict Caliban is far more racist, but that's the style nowadays.

John Borell said...

The CCP must be thrilled with the things we fight about.

Sterling said...

First, it isn't blackface. It is simply make-up to make the actor appear as a Moor might.
Second, there is nothing Amos and Andy about this performance.
Third, there are swaths of Americans desperate to play the victim. Give me the good old days when to play the victim was considered by society as shameful.

tim maguire said...

The hair looks fine in the clip and I don't see a hint of raspberry red on his lips. Same as it ever was for the NYT, I suppose.

Meanwhile, down at the academy, the crybully students found another thing they needed to be protected from--oh no! oh no! We have to see a great actor in an old movie! Oh no! Cancel someone!

William said...

Olivier was miscast as Othello. Iago would have been in his wheelhouse. When you think of his most memorable screen role, the Nazi dentist in Boys from Brazil or, in Shakespearean roles, Richard III come to mind. Olivier knew how to be a Bond villain. Some of his screen performances look a little hammy, but, to be fair, he was playing hammy characters. Shakespeare's characters are not understated or minimal in their gestures or ambitions.

Iman said...

Oh dear.

dbp said...

"Writing in The New York Times, the critic Bosley Crowther expressed shock that Olivier 'plays Othello in blackface,' noting his 'wig of kinky black hair,' his lips 'smeared and thickened with a startling raspberry red' and his exaggerated accent, which he described as reminiscent of 'Amos ‘n’ Andy.'"

Laurence Olivier sounds just like he always sounds when doing Shakespeare. The makeup looks nothing like a minstrel show, it rather looks as if the movie makers were trying to make Olivier appear as if he were a Moor.

Yancey Ward said...

Olivier needs to be disinterred from whatever cemetery holds his remains.

Uncle Pavian said...

Looking back on it, maybe Titus Andronicus would have been a better choice.

SteveWe said...

An outstanding performance by a great actor in a movie adaptation of one of Shakespeare's greatest of great plays. I didn't find the accent objectionable and certainly not Amos 'n Andy (which I watched often as a child on TV). How was it cast in Shakespeare's time? Was Shakespeare guilty of cultural apropriation? And, keep in mind Othello was a general in the Venetian army, not someone's servant or slave. Othello is a complex story of deception and jealousy, and murder for false and well deserved reasons.

I'm tired of this rampant racism and silly, childish sensibilities.

Quaestor said...

One often raised objection to blackface is that using it denies a role that ought to go to a Black actor. This is a naive objection that assumes dramatic characterization and race are somehow immutably linked, which brings us back to Terence, who before becoming a dramatist was a North African Berber enslaved to a Roman citizen. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto -- I am a man: I hold that nothing human is alien to me. The line is given to a character in The Self-Tormentor but it is likely that its inclusion was the playwright's reply to scoffers who questioned an ex-slave's authority to write about anybody but other slaves. We've seen this fallacy repeated ad nauseam by critics who should know better.

William said...

Olivier also played Shylock. He didn't use a prosthetic nose, but you knew he was playing a Jewish character. It was a sympathetic portrayal and this despite Shakespeare's openly and intentionally anti-Semitic words. Should Shylock only be played by Jewish actors or should the play not even be performed at all?.....In the Ring Cycle, Wagner presents a greedy, money grubbing dwarf. Wagner explicitly meant this dwarf to be an anti-Semitic caricature. For all that, Weizmann was inspired by the cycle to formulate Zionism.....People are inspired by art but not particularly in ways the artist expects.

Hubert the Infant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hubert the Infant said...

I think the real question is: Why would anybody be harmed by watching an old movie with a famous actor in blackface? I could see laughing at it. If I were a curious college student, I could see trying to understand why that seemed like a good idea at the time, or what background might be best for an actor playing a Moor (certainly not African American). But harmed? It really is hard to empathize with anybody having that reaction.

I am not traumatized by pictures or films of Adolf Hitler. I can approach a Ford Mustang or F150 without caring that its manufacturer's founder wanted bad things to happen to my grandparents. Either the students' reactions were fake, or something that I cannot fathom is going on.

steve_g said...

Thank you for providing the video trailer. Although Olivier is made up as a black man, I see no hint of mockery or racial denigration in his performance.

It looks like he's trying to pretend to be someone else for the sake of an interesting story, which is my definition of "acting".

I'll allow it.

Michael said...

OK, so this would not be done now and perhaps should not have been done then. And yet, should one of our great Shakespearean actors never have assayed one of the great Shakespearean roles? Maybe not in blackface, although Othello is the Moor of Venice. In any case, the reaction of our modern "students" to this kind of thing is far too reminiscent of the "Kill the Pig" crowd in Lord of the Flies.

Chris said...

"Writing in The New York Times, the critic Bosley Crowther expressed shock that Olivier 'plays Othello in blackface,' noting his 'wig of kinky black hair,' his lips 'smeared and thickened with a startling raspberry red' and his exaggerated accent, which he described as reminiscent of 'Amos ‘n’ Andy.' (To 'the sensitive American viewer,' Crowther wrote, Olivier looked like someone in a 'minstrel show.')"

Olivier looks NOTHING like the blackface exhibited in a minstrel show. It seems like an outright lie to say his lips are smeared with startling raspberry read, and his accent thick like Amos and Andy. I watched the video and saw nor heard none of that. He sounds nothing like Amos and Andy. What I did see and hear was Lawrence Olivier playing Othello. This is called acting, and playing a part. Was it wrong to for a white man to play this part? To me that is purely subjective. He is not mocking a black person ala minstrelsy. He is playing Othello! He is playing Othello quite well I might add. This just goes to show, that these college kids have no idea what REAL blackface is. They are too sensitive and cannot even begin to understand art or performance.

Better get a REAL blind, and deaf person to play Helen Keller in The Miracle worker. Better bet a REAL disabled person to play Porgy in Porgy and Bess. Better get a REAL drug addled hooker to play Bess while you're at it. Don't even get me started when it comes to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest. You'll have to cast the show with real mental hospital patients to appease the woke. I'm sad to say that the brilliant light opera The Mikado will never be performed again. Don't tell me it could be performed with actual Japanese actors because that defeats the entire meaning of the operetta.

The world has gone completely mad, and this professor was wrong to apologize. Especially given his experience with the Chinese cultural revaluation.

Geoff Matthews said...

Olivier's makeup doesn't look cartoonish. It isn't being done disrespectfully. And given the play's subject matter, it is fairly progressive.
Going forward, the Moor will be interpreted as more of a Berber than an Sub-Saharan if you want a Caucasian to play the role, but this isn't a minstrel show.

BUMBLE BEE said...

Actors portray characters. What... Michael Rennie portrays a space alien? I'm offended!

Enigma said...

Should we be more worried about the offensive events of the past, or worried about those offended by history?

Watch the Confederate States of America. Alternate History of USA as a segregated quasi-South Africa during apartheid.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0389828/

Chris said...

Read The Parasitic Mind by Professor Gad Sad. It brilliantly explains how all of this has been made possible.

BUMBLE BEE said...

Sperm count in those boys nulled by cell phone radiation?

ReadDude said...

We watched this version of Othello in my Shakespeare class in 1979 in my high school. AFAIK, none of us were scarred by the experience. I remember the dialog, being unmodernized, a bit hard to follow for a young Midwesterner's ears, but it was an excellent production.

I much preferred Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew (it was also an introduction to Elizabeth Taylor's powers as she was way past her prime 15 years later.)

Has there been a better version of Othello produced in the last 50 years than this one?

This may suggest a binge-viewing with my wife of a round of Shakespeare movies, its been a while!

Lucien said...

I had no idea Amos ‘n Andy did Shakespeare like that. Did they customarily roll their r’s?

Richard Aubrey said...

Students should be told they're STUDENTS. Which means what bothers them isn't going to be taken seriously by ADULTS.

robother said...

I too was stunned--as what a scenery chewer Sir Laurence was in this role. The Great Olivier playing Othello, blackface was the lesser of his sins against nature in acting.

Amadeus 48 said...

A few points:

1. In its time, the film was an artistic landmark. From Wikipedia: Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Joyce Redman, and Frank Finlay all received Oscar nominations, and it provided film debuts for both Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon. Film critic Pauline Kael gave the production and Olivier's portrayal one of her most glowing reviews, shaming the major movie studios for giving Olivier so little money to make the film that he and the public had to be content with what was almost literally a filmed stage production. John Simon, while disagreeing with the approach the production's interpretation took, declared that, "Olivier plays this misconceived Othello spectacularly, in a manner that is always a perverse joy to behold".

2. Cross-racial and colorblind casting is widely practiced and accepted. I saw this film when it came out. I have seen the great Adrian Lester, a black actor, play both Othello and Hamlet. Lester was the best Hamlet I have ever seen. Olivier was the best Othello I have ever seen. Oliver was as easy to accept as the Moor of Venice as Lester was as the prince of Denmark. Olivier was a better Othello than Lester.

3. I recognize that a freshman at the University of Michigan is pretty uninformed. I wonder what her view is of Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, Fred Armisen, Billy Crystal, Dan Ackroyd, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Trudeau and Ralph Northam, all of whom have appeared in blackface. I suppose she cries herself to sleep every night at their presence on this earth.

4. Othello is a tough play because the Moor is such a sap. I never need to see it again.

cf said...

"the play's the thing!"
Stagecraft is one thing, but putting theatrical thick makeup on film for posterity turns it into "uncanny valley" territory.

that wasn't Olivier's only "blackface"; he also applied that makeup in 1966 film "Khartoum" playing the winning commander Muhammad Ahmed against charlton heston's gen. Gordon. In both productions, Olivier's paint makes it hard to concentrate, and that was true back in the 60s as it is today, race aside, nothing pleasant about it.

Rob said...

I sit in stunned silence that the University of Michigan students are so fragile, that Professor Sheng has so well integrated the values of academia that he engaged in robust self-criticism and that anyone detected an Amos 'n' Andy accent in Olivier's performance.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

If I have ever seen Olivier as Othello, it would have been a long time ago.

I speculated with a friend: Olivier as a good or great actor may have tried to solve a problem in the play. This guy is a big hero. Why is it so easy to make him crazy? Why the hell does he kill his wife? So Olivier gives "hints" from the beginning the Othello might be a lunatic--all this with blackface, arguably reinforcing the stereotype that all muscular black males are murderers. Or something.

Olivier had a reputation for going "over the top."

Carol said...

The Amos'n'Andy guys were black, at least on TV. The radio ones might have been white but they wouldn't have been in blackface.

Henry Louis Gates wrote in his book Colored People that you could hear the radio show coming out the window of every house on the street in his old neighborhood.They thought it was *their* show.

But that was just a book. No danger there.

daskol said...

Should Shylock only be played by Jewish actors

Yes. To do otherwise is called Jewface and Sarah Silverman is pissed off about it.

rcocean said...

Yeah, I'm not sure why Olivier went for the greasy kid look. Larry, the wet head is dead. Long live the dry look.

Othello is an interesting play. I don't know why Shakespeare made him a "Moor" or if they used blackface in his time. I doubt it. His performance is much better than Welles, because Welles makes him out to be a bit of dunce. He's slow on the uptake. Larry makes him more intelligent. Of course, Olivier was plain out the better actor, so that explains part of it.

Too bad Olivier never did Merchant of Venice. That's one of Shakespeare's better films. Yet, no one seems to film it.

And Olivier did not have a reputation for "Going over the top".

daskol said...

Othello is a tough play because the Moor is such a sap. I never need to see it again.

I recently watched the Branagh version with the great Laurence Fishbourne as Othello, and yeah, such a sap, with evil little shit Iago the only interesting thing to watch. A dark play indeed.

effinayright said...

Myself, I'm still trembling with rage and disgust over watching lefty Linda Hunt play a Chinese male dwarf in the 1982 Mel Gibson/Sigourney Weaver flick, "The Year of Living Dangerously".

On top of that, lefty Hollywood awarded her an Oscar for her portrayal, ignoring the fact that she deprived short Chinese male actors the opportunity of a lifetime.

Where is the equity in Actor's Equity, I ask....

Joe Smith said...

Much adude about nothing...

I'm a dude playing the dude disguised as another dude.

People need to get over themselves.

m stone said...

The IMDb bio of Olivier sheds more light on his role:

"He wanted the audience to dislike Othello until the very end, when he is destroyed by the tragedy Iago has hatched for him. Then, the audience would be complicit in Othello's destruction (as they had despised Othello too as a "negro" rather than as the white man in black face he had always been portrayed as by British actors), and their guilt at the destroyed innocent (and their shame over their own racism) would bring them to the point of catharsis. Olivier described it as pushing the audience away for most of the play before drawing them back into his palm."

m

Cato said...

That 1965 reviewer was a liar. None of what was said was actually true about the performance.

The only thing racist here is the idea that a white man cannot play a black character on stage. Since the part was created, white men have been playing Othello on stage. And in Opera.

To say that cannot happen anymore is to say that black actors can’t portray white characters either. And that is done all the time in opera.

Bill Peschel said...

Wait till he shows them "Blazing Saddles."

Cassandra said...

"When University of Michigan professor Bright Sheng was a young boy in China, the Maoist Cultural Revolution nearly destroyed his ability to hone his musical talents. After revolutionaries had seized his piano as a bourgeois relic, he was sent to Qinghai Province, near Tibet ... He has since become one of the world’s most-celebrated composers, winning the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship in 2001 and twice finishing as a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in Music" https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/10/michigan-professor-survives-cultural-revolution-succumbs-to-campus-wokeness/

Perhaps the past is not a foreign country. We may not do things different here.

Mike Sylwester said...

The play's ending is that the Black man stupidly murders his innocent White wife.

sykes.1 said...

William, previously, mentions Paul Robeson. While Robeson was a fine actor, he was seriously miscast as a Moor.

Cassandra said...

The NYT reports: "He [Professor Sheng] also said that he had not seen the makeup as an attempt to mock Black people, but as part of a long tradition — one that has persisted in opera — which he said valued the 'music quality of the singers' over physical resemblance."

Another unforgivable sin -- merit over appearance. The past is indeed a foreign country. They did do things different then.

Lars Porsena said...

...and in other news...Denzel Washington (a black man) is appearing as Macbeth (a white Scottish king) in the ‘The Tragedy Of Macbeth’ a film opening for the New York Film Festival.


Will these racist outrages never cease?

DanTheMan said...

These same students just loved Hamilton. Which is completely different because shut up.

Baceseras said...

This is a filmed record of a stage production; to the everlasting shame of British film investors, they wouldn't back the fully produced film Olivier wanted to make. The result is a little uncomfortable to watch, but allows us to see the greatest actor of his day in a great role.

Welles' Othello is a great film, against all odds when you know the conditions under which it was made. And Welles' performance in the title role is as fine as Olivier's, albeit in a different key. (Welles foregrounds the melodramatic aspect of this very hybrid play.)

I wish the professor hadn't apologized. He did nothing blameworthy. His only error was overestimating the maturity of the children taking his course.

Chuck said...

It feels like 2010.

I find myself bathing in warm agreement with this blog’s commentariat.

As for my alma mater... what a stupid fucking look. Jon Chait is one of my fellow Wolverines. I really wonder what his take will be on this.

BUMBLE BEE said...

Ummmm... Anybody see Hamilton?

Mary Beth said...

I did not know Amos 'n' Andy sounded so posh.

LA_Bob said...

Brings to mind more Shakespeare: "Much Ado About Nothing".

Luke Lea said...


Wasn't Othello a Berber? Not technically black, just dusky Caucasian.

Bender said...

(1) The greater offense was to show Olivier in ANYTHING, crappy actor that he was, but he plays a passable "Is it safe?" cartoon bad guy in Marathon Man.

(2) Apparently no one has bothered to see Laurence Fishburne's Othello, with Kenneth Branagh as The Villain. It is excellent.

(3) Referring to Othello as "the Moor" does not necessarily mean that he was Moroccan, since it could be a catch-all term for anyone from Africa. In any event, Othello's race is a substantial part of the plot given his marriage to a white woman and the controversy that caused.

(4) I remember seeing Othello on stage at the Folger Theatre. First couple of rows. The lighting was stark enough that I could see the profuse sprays of spit spewing from the actors as they forcefully said their lines.

Stan Smith said...

Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" still OK? Alec Guiness in "Lawrence of Arabia"?

Come on, wokesters! Up your game!

Michael said...

Some of these commenters are missing the point. In Hamilton, black actors played white characters, but they were not made up as Europeans. Of course, race was not a plot element there. If Sir Larry had gone with a medium tan and eschewed African mannerisms, all would have been well.

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Narayanan said...

My mighty effort to bring Trump into this - here goes

backstory for Shakespeare creating Othello ....

It is believed that Shakespeare based Othello on a short story called Gli Hecatommithi, which was published in 1565 by Geraldi Cinthio.

This story, which centered around the commander deceived by his soldier, was transformed by Shakespeare in a play.
----------
speaking of 'commander deceived by his soldier' + having beautiful wife >>> Trump was playing Othello in WHITEFACE and DID NOT KILL ANY OF HIS WIVES

Many Iagos = Pentagon Generals

DanTheMan said...

>>In Hamilton, black actors played white characters, but they were not made up as Europeans. Of course, race was not a plot element there.

Of course race IS a plot element of Hamilton. The cast is all black. The people they are portraying are all white. Except of course for idiot George III who is white. Race is front and center.

And they were made up as Europeans and colonial Americans, in period costumes. So, costumes OK, but makeup is not?

Are you saying it would be fine to cast Tom Hanks as Martin Luther King Jr. But if he put on makeup, that would be an outrage?

chuck said...

Some of these commenters are missing the point.

Exactly. Now, about the guy who dressed up as a Wookie in Star Wars...

Blair said...

In the immortal words of Lawrence Olivier...

"It's called ACTING, dear boy...!"

Narayanan said...

Stan Smith said...
... Alec Guiness in "Lawrence of Arabia"?
----------
thanks for bringing this up.

1984 - at the time there was outre-age in Egypt when Louis Gossett Jr. was cast in film as Sadat!!! [while Ibn Saud had been was cast with Alec Guinness]

Fernandinande said...

I'm shocked, shocked to find that makeup is going on in a play!

Lurker21 said...

What about all the hunchbacked actors that Olivier deprived of work with his Richard III?

Is Olivier's performance in Othello objectionable in itself, or is it historical baggage associated with blackface that makes it objectionable? Or is impossible to separate the act from the larger historical context?

And "shocked" is an interesting word. There's a neutral meaning: you're taken aback and put into a state of shock. Then there's also the very negative connotation: to be shocked is to be appalled and horrified. Were the students appalled or were they merely stunned and taken aback by the strangeness of the experience?

rcocean said...

You keep reasoning with the Left. Its useless. But then the Center-right just loves to argue. Success in the real word is irrelevant.

William said...

What passes almost unnoticed is that this professor had previously been knocked around by the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution. The professor apparently does not merit victim status for this past mistreatment. Left wing forms of bigotry are not considered bigotry. If you wish to have Revered Victim status, you need to be oppressed by white men (but not when they're Marxists).....Olivier's performance is very far from Amos N Andy, but the performance of these students is comparable to that of the Red Guards. Doesn't the professor have a right to be triggered by their behavior?

Rory said...

There's a Gomer Pyle episode where Sgt. Carter is trying to convince Gomer that LuAnn has been untrue to him. It's even called Sergeant Iago.

Jamie said...

'Of course, facing criticism for my misjudgment as a professor here is nothing like the experience that many Chinese professors faced during the Cultural Revolution,' he wrote. 'But it feels uncomfortable that we live in an era where people can attempt to destroy the career and reputation of others with public denunciation. I am not too old to learn, and this mistake has taught me much.'

I'll bet it did. I love the way he worded it: "this mistake," not "my mistake." And "has taught me much," not "has taught me the error of my ways." You go, Prof! Way to insult the crap out of a bunch of people who richly deserve it, without their being able to prove you did it!

The question is, did his statement teach any of his students, or the administration, or anybody apparently in control of his life, anything at all? Imma say no.

Critter said...

Is it going too far to suggest that the complaining students be expelled? They obviously care not about obtaining a liberal education so they are occupying a place in the university that would be better allotted to a student who wants to learn. Even worse, they are actively trying to ruin the educational experience for others and to impose harm on an innocent professor. They are airplane hijackers. These students would be better served being sent to a university in China or North Korea where they would be among their peers.

I’m only a little bit joking.

Terry Ott said...

Who knew that Bryan Townsend (@12:19 pm above) was such a skilled carpenter? Witness, my friends, the nail being hit squarely and firmly on its head: "This whole controversy reflects very badly, not on Olivier or Professor Sheng, but on the colossal ignorance of the students and the cowardice of the administration.”

Thank you, Mr. Townsend.

But I DO have a bone to pick with Professor Sheng, and it’s not for showing the film but for APOLOGIZING and stepping down. Good God Almighty. I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see our society become so completely weak-kneed, candy-assed, and pitiful. It really is stunning. And “colossal ignorance” is the right term.

My university is an embarrassment in the same way. I’ve informed them my annual donation (private university) is ending, explaining that they (the administration) are responsible for the profile and oh-so-predictable antics of students admitted —brilliant academically or not — and it’s shameful. I have charities and causes to support and those organizations will benefit a little from my decision. No campus buildings will ever be named for me, but if one HAD been I’d be demanding that it be renamed (or razed). This generation’s student values give me tremors and a foreboding feeling, not pride and confidence.

Terry Ott said...

Good call, Jamie, when you said you love the way he worded it as "this mistake," not "my mistake." And "has taught me much," not "has taught me the error of my ways.” I didn’t think of it as you did, and you’re right!

The incident probably “taught” the prof that just because some collection of young people are accepted into a university, and then happen to sign up for a particular class, does not mean they are equipped or sophisticated or mature enough to appreciate what a prof decides would be beneficial for the learning process. Instead, they would rather compete with each other to see who can feign the most extreme and outlandish indignation. The trophy for “biggest loser” apparently has them all fired up.

Andrew said...

@Jamie and Terry Ott,
I'm glad I saw your comments. Yes, that sounds like what he meant. I didn't catch that at first either, and I find it encouraging. As brilliant as he is, and experienced in seeing through deception and misplaced zeal, no doubt he is learning a great deal. Hopefully he can use it to his advantage. Perhaps he'll write an opera about the Cultural Revolution, but set it in Michigan. He can become the Chinese-American Shostakovich.

tolkein said...

Actors play parts. Great actors, like Olivier, play great parts - and Othello is such a great part and a great play. What comes next? Should congresscritters only represent the race of their constituents? Should all districts be drawn on racial lines? Are quotas the way forward everywhere for the hard left now?

loudogblog said...

This is another example of people taking offense where none was intended. (I'm speaking of the film, here.) When the film was made, there was no intention of offending black people. But times have changed and a film like that could not be made today because most everyone knows that it would be offensive to many people because of its very existence. I first noticed this modern situation decades ago when they started sexual harassment trainings in the workplace. It didn't matter if you honestly meant no offense, if the reporting person felt offended, it was a violation.

Joe T. said...

Crowther was the kind well-mannered, culturally conservative film reviewer that Pauline Kael rebelled against. If he had issues with Olivier's choice to wear the makeup, it's worth hearing. I've seen performances of the play where actors do the makeup--Anthony Hopkins in the BBC production in 1981, for example. Looks a little silly.

Bunkypotatohead said...

I'd pay good money to see Vanilla Ice in blackface covering YG's hit single My N****z.

Readering said...

Watched Human Stain this evening. Anthony Hopkins/Wentworth Miller unconvincing as offspring of Anna Deavere Smith and Harry Lennix. 2003. When does it stop being shown?

Skeptical Voter said...

Wonder how the "offended" group of students could handle a showing of Billy Wilder's
"Some Like It Hot" with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dressing up as women? Well, nobody's perfect.