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Sir Laurence Olivier as Othello in the 1965 film version

Sir Laurence Olivier as Othello in the 1965 film version

Excerpt from "Olivier's Blackface Othello" by Ben Arogundade for Huffingtonpost.com:  

Despite his studious approach, American critics balked at his blackface portrayal when the film opened across 51 metropolitan theatres in 1966. The country was in the midst of the civil rights movement, when sensitivities about black identity were at their height, and racist stereotypes were being systematically challenged. Against this backdrop the Englishman's chosen aesthetic suddenly seemed badly timed, if not completely outdated. Bosley Crowther, writing in the New York Times, stated that the film gave the "outrageous impression of a theatrical Negro stereotype", and that Olivier resembled an "end man in an American minstrel show." Unsurprisingly, the film played for just two days. But despite it all, the production later received the highest ever number of Academy Award nominations for a Shakespeare film.

With Europe largely unaffected by the fallout from the American Civil Rights Movement, it took much longer until white Othellos in blackface fell out of favor there. As late as 1990 Michael Gambon blacked up to play the Moor in a performance at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. This time he played the lead as a lighter-toned Arab. After this, blackface portrayals were retired completely, and Othello would mostly be cast as a Sub-Saharan African on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.

Link to the full article and the information source : "Olivier's Blackface Othello" by Ben Arogundade for Huffingtonpost.com - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-arogundade/oliviers-blackface-othell_b_1552164.html

Image Source: Circulating Collection, Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia. Subject: "Othello" – Shakespeare.

Original source: Gift of WHYY-TV 12, Philadelphia
 

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