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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: September ::
Film Casting; Color-Blind and Color-Aware Casting
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 590.  Sunday, 26 Sept. 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Nina Walker <
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        Date:   Saturday, 25 Sep 93 13:43:29 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0581  Re: Color-Blind Casting and More Ado
 
(2)     From:   Phyllis Gorfain <
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        Date:   Saturday, 25 Sep 1993 17:39:13 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0581  Re: Color-Blind Casting and More Ado
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nina Walker <
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Date:           Saturday, 25 Sep 93 13:43:29 EDT
Subject: 4.0581  Re: Color-Blind Casting and More Ado
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0581  Re: Color-Blind Casting and More Ado
 
To all those who responded to my commentary on Denzel Washington and the
casting issue, I'm appreciative. Although I disagree that there has been
too much discussion of the subject, I have had my say and would like to
move on to another subject that seemed to develop as a result--the issue
of popular appeal in film casting. I certainly agree with Celene Gura
that Branaugh probably has this on his agenda, and I agree
wholeheartedly with its huge value. However, I can't resist saying that
I think Branaugh is not an original here but rather following in the
footsteps of Franco Zeffirelli who has done this with such great
success. The casting of American screen idols who can give reasonable
performances, as Mel Gibson does, is incredibly important in introducing
young, otherwise disinterested, audiences to the world of Shakespeare.
For that we should all be grateful. Having said this, I would like to
undermine the argument somewhat by saying that more is needed to achieve
this popular response than just a popular American screen star and both
Zeffirelli and now Branaugh seem to understand this completely.
 
Both have emphasized action and location as much as stardom in their
productions. Taking the action  and location off the stage environment
and out of the enclosed and restricted settings we are used to is an
intergral feature of their productions that appeals to the resistant
novice as much as the star. I can guarantee that Kevin Kline on video in
*Hamlet* puts my students to sleep regardless of their fascination with
Kline. By the way, a good number of my students do not come willingly to
Shakespeare (as someone suggested.) They come in an Intro to Lit class,
required in all majors. I use the Zeffirelli and Gibson film to plant the
seeds which I hope will bring them voluntarily to the elective British
Lit class later on. It works. I expect *Much Ado* will as well.
 
When I saw *Much Ado* there was spontaneous applause from the
audience--the "base, common and popular" audience. This is a rarity
in the movies and it gives me heart.
 
Note to Timothy Bowden: When, if ever, Tom Hanks appears as *Othello*
you can be sure I'll see it.
 
To Ellen Edgerton: Thanks for the bit of Branaugh history.
 
Nina Walker
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Phyllis Gorfain <
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Date:           Saturday, 25 Sep 1993 17:39:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0581  Re: Color-Blind Casting and More Ado
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0581  Re: Color-Blind Casting and More Ado
 
Just to add a few more anecdotes about color-blind and color-aware (a
term?) casting:
 
Denzel Washington played a terrific -- not great, but very fine -- Richard
III in a Shakespeare in the Park production about three or four years ago.
In the same production, a very fine black actor, whose name has slipped
my mind, played Queen Margaret; in these cases, I believe, color was not
a body-trait which we were to take as significant, as semantically rele-
vant. But when Josette Simon played Rosaline in LLL, or when other black
actors do so, as one did last year at the Stratford Festival in Canada,
I believe this is not "color-blind casting." Too many references are
made to Rosaline's dark eyes and brow (though Berowne instructs Costard
to deliver his letter to "her white hand," III.i.168) that the actor's
own coloring will be not be relevant. Finally, the teasing that Berowne
endures from his mates, once they learn he has joined them in forswearing
his vows but has taunted them as if he hadn't, centers on Rosaline's dark
features. The king's first put-down to Berowne is: "By heaven, thy love is
black as ebony." (IV.iii.243) and the repartee continues for another 35
lines, with many insults and paradoxes bandied to praise and dispraise
"black." I have been fascinated, in the theatre, as to how to take these
very cruel remarks, which, in the context of having not just a woman with
dark hair and eyes as Rosaline, but a black woman of African descent,
seem to me racist. Yet we seem not to be asked to see the King and the
other young men as racists, at the same time that the lines cannot be
taken in a "color-blind" context, for color clearly matters.
 
How have other people interpreted and judged some moments in the theatre?
It is clear that the contest between the men becomes an occasion for
Berowne to prove his wit, his ability to excuse anything, paradoxically
praise the apparently unworthy term "black," and "prove her fair, or
talk till doomsday here," (IV.iii.270), just as he will be asked to
provide proof that their "loving [is] lawful" and their "faith not torn."
But what does this behavior "mean" in the theatre with a black actor
playing Rosaline in our time? I find the theatrical signals confusing
and morally perplexing. What have others felt and thought?
 
Incidentally, I am teaching a colloquium for first and second-year students
called "The Performative Impulse," co-taught with Prof. Roger Copeland,
a theatre historian from our Theatre program. We have one class for
"Problematic Pleasures" and another called "Beyond Performance," where we
deal with questions of gaze, limits to willing suspension of disbelief,
that which cannot be framed as representation, etc., and there deal with
questions of casting. Any good readings or theory along these lines would
be welcome! Thanks.
 
Greetings from Oberlin.
Phyllis Gorfain,

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