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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Colorblindness
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1187  Wednesday, 23 May 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 May 2001 10:28:00 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

[2]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 May 2001 14:00:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 May 2001 14:28:46 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

[4]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 May 2001 23:37:40 -0500
        Subj:   Color Blind Casting

[5]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Wed, 23 May 2001 06:47:09 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 May 2001 10:28:00 -0700
Subject: 12.1175 Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

Mr. Weinstein's observation:

>We do not see black actors playing Scotsmen in Braveheart or Rob Roy or
>British aristocrats in
>Merchant-Ivory films.  I don't hear anyone raising a hue-and-cry about
>this; so why the different standard for theatre?

may be true of the films he mentions.  I think of Denzel Washington
playing Don Pedro, and Adrian Lester as Dumaine in two of Ken Branagh's
Shakespearean films.

Are these exceptions?  Yes.  Mostly Mr. Weinstein is right, but the
exceptions seem worth noting.

I tend to think it would it be more productive to put this question to a
casting agent, than to members of this list, but we have clever and
informed people, so who knows?  I was once called a bigot for suggesting
that if is perfectly all right for a black man to play Hamlet, and it
is, then it is perfectly all right for a white man to play Othello, but
what does a bigot like me know?

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 May 2001 14:00:45 -0400
Subject: 12.1175 Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

Well, Kenneth Branagh has cast black actors to play roles conventionally
played by whites in his films of Much Ado, Hamlet, and LLL.  So color
blind casting  is not entirely confined to theater.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 May 2001 14:28:46 -0400
Subject: 12.1175 Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

Charles Weinstein astutely makes a point that I was saving for later:

> We do not see black actors
> playing Scotsmen in Braveheart or Rob Roy or British aristocrats in
> Merchant-Ivory films.  I don't hear anyone raising a hue-and-cry about
> this;

and then he asks rhetorically

> so why the different standard for theatre?

I don't think there is much of a different standard in the theater
generally, just the classics.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 May 2001 23:37:40 -0500
Subject:        Color Blind Casting

> We do not see black actors
> playing Scotsmen in Braveheart or Rob Roy or British aristocrats in
> Merchant-Ivory films.
>

Yet we do see Denzel Washington playing a very suave aristocratic Don
Pedro in the Branagh *Much Ado* film.

Cheers for colorblindness!

John

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Wed, 23 May 2001 06:47:09 -0500
Subject: 12.1175 Colorblindness
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1175 Colorblindness

Charles Weinstein wrote:

> We do not see black actors
> playing Scotsmen in Braveheart or Rob Roy or British aristocrats in
> Merchant-Ivory films.  I don't hear anyone raising a hue-and-cry about
> this; so why the different standard for theatre?

If you don't hear any hue and cry about the lack of opportunity for
minority actors in the entertainment industry, it's because you aren't
listening. See for example, today's Salon magazine online at
http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/feature/2001/05/23/black_tv/index.html.

This is a factual matter: there have been substantial complaints from
African Americans, Asians and other actors, production personnel and
others about the number of jobs and portrayal of minorities in the
corporate entertainment world. And someone like Spike Lee is quite
willing to use the word "racist" for the ideological system that debars
African Americans from equal access to the roles that pay best and have
the most status.

The more interesting question is the one that Mr. Weinstein poses at the
end. I assume that he wants to say that there is little difference
between Braveheart and a production of Antony and Cleopatra. (Why are
contemporary white actors capable of playing Cleopatra, who was some
variety of Mediterranean human being? Greek? Black? Arabic? Short, dumpy
with bad teeth?) I think this is a questionable assumption.

While Shakespeare and his culture didn't envisage the photography of a
motion picture, they certainly left traces--the epilogue to the Tempest,
for example--that suggested that the willingness of the audience to
participate in the dramatic moment was key. In other (my) words, if you
believe African Americans can't play Scots, their performances won't
work for you, because you refuse your participation. If you decline the
invitation because of their lack of skill, that's one thing. But my
point is that while your participation may depend on features of your
cultural and ideological makeup which are neither conscious nor
particularly malleable, it's about you and not about the nature of the
theatre or the plays.

By the way, there's an interesting film by Jay Koh out there called
"Truth." It opens with a Korean American actor daydreaming about playing
one of the great Shakespearean roles (Lear? Prospero?). He wakes to find
that he's missed his cue with the spotlight he's running and we realise
that no matter how good an actor he may be, he will face severe
handicaps playing the prized roles in the canon because of his race. The
movie's not terribly well acted since it was self-financed by Mr. Koh.
(He's particularly hard on his own performance, but the price was
right.) But the opening sequence highlights exactly what we're talking
about.

Cheers,
Pat

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