Date & Time
Saturday, June 1, 2019
Logan Center, Screening Room 201
Liz White’s Othello was the first film version of Shakespeare’s tragedy that starred a Black man and remains the only Shakespearean film directed by a Black woman. The film adapts Shakespeare’s tragedy to the 1960s, using an all-Black cast and crew (including music by Hugh Masekela) to reimagine the play in a way that addressed colorism in the Black community, Afrocentrism, and the Black Power Movement. Yaphet Kotto plays an African Othello whose dark skin and traditional dress set him apart from the light-skinned and sophisticated New Yorkers whose social world he enters. Scholar Peter Donaldson argues that this essential change makes the play more viable as tragedy. “Because Othello is close, ethnically, to the rest of the cast without really being one of them, the eruption of mistrust and rage is especially poignant: in rejecting Othello, the ‘Venetians’ are rejecting a part of themselves, a link to their origins; and in falling prey to suspicion, Othello too denies the claims of consanguinity and disavows a shared history.” And Courtney Lehmann argues that “by focusing on the (mis)treatment of women in Othello, White links their struggle to the double displacement of black women within the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.” Filmed between 1962 and 1966 at White’s Shearer Summer Theatre at Oak Bluffs, a historic Black community on Martha’s Vineyard, but unseen until 1980 and seldom thereafter, White’s radical reimagining of Shakespeare’s text is essential viewing.
Post-film panel discussion includes Honey Crawford (UChicago TAPS), James Vincent Meredith (Steppenwolf Theatre), and Ron OJ Parson (Court Theatre).