Othello Ethics: When Political Correctness Is Unethical

OtelloposterI don’t know how I missed the fact that opera producers and directors had stopped playing Shakespeare’s Othello in Verdi’s “Otello” as a black man, but I’m glad I did for this long—it allowed me a few more fleeting days of ignorant happiness without dreading the collapse of civilization as we know it. Apparently, however, that is the trend, and now the Metropolitan Opera is caving to the nonsense as well.

It makes perfect sense that most theater companies stopped using dark makeup on light actors for their “Othellos”, because there is seldom a valid reason to cast a white actor in the role: there are plenty of African Americans up to the task. Now, if a great white actor should want to play the role as a black man—like Laurence Olivier did in the 1960s—why not? Judith Anderson played Hamlet (“Hamlet lost” announced one critic); this is why it’s called “acting.” Still, I appreciate the position that the one black tragic hero in Shakespeare’s canon should not be casually distributed to an actor who can easily be cast in any of the other great roles, while black actors have far too few opportunities to star in the classics.

Opera, however, poses a different problem: Otello is a prime tenor role and there are not great black tenors in abundance. Moreover, it is one of the great tenor role: if you are a great tenor, it doesn’t matter if you are green—people want to hear you sing the role. Thus the Met’s new production of Verdi’s “Otello” that will open its season next month will star a white tenor, but not in black makeup.

“That was a tradition that needed to be changed,” Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, told the New York Times.

Really? Why?

The Times says that using dark makeup for the role of the tragic Moor is seen as an uncomfortable vestige of minstrelsy. Ridiculous. Seen by whom. other than those who see it that way to justify a protest. It would be hard to find a work of art form more removed from minstrel shows and blackface than “Othello” or “Otello.” Othello is a noble, dignified character, and the racial conflict between him and the white villain Iago is central to the tragedy. Turning “Othello,” or “Otello” into just another story about a flawed white guy is a travesty on Shakespeare that has to have a better justification than “using appropriate make-up will remind some silly people of blackface, Jolson and “My Mammy.” Isn’t it time to grow up? The make-up on Othello “reminds” some people of minstrel shows, so, “Ewwww!”?

“It was always understood that the old-fashioned, out-of-pace-with-the times approach of Otello in blackface was not going to be part of this production,”  Gelb said. Old fashioned…you know, like casting King Lear as an old man, Hamlet as Danish, and Lady MacBeth as a woman. Othello is a Moor. Shakespeare makes it clear he is black. What is old-fashioned about playing roles the way the authors intended and not torturing the text to achieve some kind of  a political point unrelated to the work? “Out-of-pace-with-the times”? This a grand opera director speaking! What could possibly be more out of pace with the times than opera?

It’s make-up, that’s all. Is it out-of-pace-with-the times to put Annie in a red wig? To let Richard the Third wear a fake hump? How about the Hunchback of Note Dame…should he be played without ugly make-up?

If it bothers a director so much to let the actor playing the part of a Moor be made up to look like a Moor, then he shouldn’t do the opera.He should do one that isn’t about a black man.

Let’s tote up what is lost by this fealty to pointless political correctness. The story is weakened, the author’s intent is defied, the text doesn’t fit the character. And one more thing: by turning the role of Otello into one that no longer requires a dark-skinned appearance, “Otello” no longer will create special opportunities for the great black tenors who do arrive on the scene. Not for the first time, political correctness fever will harm the very people it purports to shower in sensitivity.

What is gained? Why, Othello will no longer remind people of minstrel shows!

Because Othello always reminded people of minstrel shows.

82 thoughts on “Othello Ethics: When Political Correctness Is Unethical

  1. It occurs to me that there’s a simple outside-the-box solution for this: when casting Othello as a white man in blackface, cast Iago as a black man in whiteface! That’ll keep ’em on their toes!

  2. I completely agree. This is one of those PC cases where a knee jerk instinct is completely removed from reality. It’s up there with trigger warnings in terms of stupidity.

    Let’s call a Moor a Moor. Editing Shakespeare is even worse an idea than editing Twain.

  3. One more reason why I will not visit NYC in the near future. The whole Opera revolves around the tragedy of Otello’s jealousy of Desdemona because she is presumedly white and therefore unfaithful. The director should be fired for making this awful decision.

  4. I think one thing is missing here: Othello is A MOOR. A Muslim from the Iberian peninsula. One of my best friends from high school, a Cuban, would make a great Othello. All he’d need is a van Dyke beard. He’s dark skinned. His future mother in law was aghast her fair, blond, non-Arabic daughter was going to marry an unacceptably dark guy, notwithstanding he was our valedictorian and was going to become an electrical engineer. I think ‘moor’ derives from the Spanish word for black beans, ‘morellanos,’ or something like that.

    Othello is NOT an African. He’s a Hispano-ARAB. All the whites call him black, but that’s just language of the time. Which is part of what Shakespeare is treating. A good Othello would look like Osama bin Laden. Or, come to think of it, Placido Fucking Domingo!

    • “Othello is NOT an African.” Actually, he is, and you have some of it right. The definition of a moor is a member of a Muslim people of Berber and Arab descent living in Northwest Africa. Many moors emigrated to Spain in medieval times.

      As far as Othello goes, though, the Moor is ethnically and physically black, whatever his precise ancestry. That’s one of the main points of the story.

      • “Muslim people of Berber and Arab descent living in Northwest Africa.” Okay. So they came to the Iberian peninsula via northwest Africa. My point is Moors are not “black” in the sense of people native to Sub-Saharan Africa or the forebears of the United States’ African American population.. Egyptians are not “black,” are they? For us to use the term “black” when speaking of “The Moor” is simply wrong.

        Frankly, I’m surprised some Islamic equivalent of the ADL doesn’t object to “Othello” ever being staged. An obsessive, macho Muslim being duped into murdering his beautiful, blond, northern European trophy wife? But wait a minute, isn’t Iago a Jew? Where’s the ADL?

        Again, I disagree. I think Othello is simply dark because he’s Arabic or Berber. He only appears to be, and is considered to be, “black” by the Europeans (and Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience). I think Domingo could have correctly sung the role with little or no darkening make-up. (But I think he looks great in the photo.)

        And great art, like stand-up comedy, deals in stereotypes. I know acknowledging this is verboten these days, but it’s inescapable. I’m sure the left considers all great art bigoted. You know, the stuff by dead white guys. Dumb. No one wants to admit it but we’re all stereotypical. If we were all snowflakes, what could we have in common? Certainly not art?

        But anyway, in opera, anything goes. Othello could be sung by a Japanese singer if the director thought he had the best voice for it. Let’s not forget Octavian in “Der Rozenkavalier” is sung by a mezzo-soprano. Which makes no visual or emotional sense at all (unless you want to see it as a proto-lesbian tract) but Strauss simply thought the more sopranos the merrier.

        • Sigh. Some people here have brought out, and then mangled, some genuine points that (it so happens) have little bearing on the play Othello and its derivative works:-

          – Moors were not “from” the Iberian peninsula, but rather some of them were “to” it. (As it happens, they were only one of three significant muslim groups there, the others being firstly converted slaves with their descendants and secondly converted Iberians and Jews, and they themselves were divided as between Arabs and Berbers and even tribally within that.)

          – The generic term “Moor” did indeed apply to anyone from the western parts of North Africa – the Maghreb, from the Arabic for “west”, just as “Saracen” derives from the Arabic for “east” – but only in the sense of coming from most recently, not in the sense of ancestry, so it included quite a few sub-saharan Africans who had got there via the caravan routes, and some of their descendants.

          – Elizabethan English had a more specific term for sub-saharan Africans based on these people, who were the only sub-saharan Africans then widely known to them: “Blackamoor”. The character Othello was one of these, as is clear from context, but as the only sort of Moor that stood out in northern sea ports etc., that is the sort that most Elizabethans thought of, so it didn’t really matter that Shakespeare used that term, particularly considering that audiences could see the colour of actors playing that rôle.

          To conclude, that is a black rôle covering a man of sub-saharan African ultimate origins who reached Venice via the Maghreb (and most definitely nothing to do with the Iberian peninsula as far as we can tell from the play itself, even though there was still a residue of quite other Moors there as at the date of the play).

          • Fascinating discussion. Here’s more, from a Huffpost posting in 2012 by Ben Arogundade:

            When Othello was first performed by William Shakespeare’s theatre group the King’s Men, at London’s Whitehall Palace on November 1, 1604, the role of the Moor was played by white actor Richard Burbage in blackface make-up. At this time there was no prospect of using a black actor in the lead, as there were no professional actors of color in Elizabethan England, and even if there were, convention would have prohibited them from participating.

            It would be over two hundred years from the date of the first performance before the play would feature a black actor in the lead. African American Ira Aldridge became the first. Born in New York in 1807, he emigrated to England in his late teens, where he succeeded in becoming a distinguished Shakespearean, featuring in many of the Bard’s roles, including his first major performance of Othello at London’s Royalty theatre in 1826. He also played other Shakespeare leads, including Macbeth and Richard III in Hull in 1832, for which he wore pale make-up and a wig.

            Unsurprisingly given the times, there was considerable resistance to the presence of the world’s first black Othello. Eighteenth century London was the epicentre of Britain’s pro-slavery lobby, and the press conducted a campaign of blatant racism against him. In one of his two Othello performances at the Covent Garden theatre in 1833, The Atheneum objected to actress Ellen Tree as Desdemona, being “pawed about on the stage by a black man.” The Times newspaper had been just as scathing eight years prior, when it commented that, “Owing to the shape of his lips it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English.” A series of eleven performances at the Surrey Theatre were accompanied by a press report describing him as an “unseemly nigger.”

          • Very interesting. Thanks.

            Sub-Saharan African Muslims are still no walk in the park. Can you say “Boko Harem” or “Sudan vs. South Sudan” boys and girls?

        • >He’s pretty fair,

          I had the pleasure of meeting him once many years ago (when I was too young to appreciate it). One thing that struck out is that the guy’s skin is milky white, even for a Spaniard (and Mexican as he was being promoted at the time, but I digress). Kudos to the makeup guy for that production, the skin tone is fitting for his facial features in that picture.

  5. I understand why they did this but I don’t agree with it. People are walking on egg shells when it comes to race in this country.

    Its rare that you can find ANY tenor that can sing this part so when you do find one cast them and use makeup and wigs to make them look the part. Or as you said don’t do the show.

  6. “That was a tradition that needed to be changed,” Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, told the New York Times.”

    I read this to my wife (she is an amateur actress and costumer in community theater) and she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. She then mentioned that it was silly to have a general manager of a MAJOR professional opera company who knows nothing about the traditions of the theater or opera. What’s next? Naming the “Scottish play” so as to reduce sexism? How absurd.

    • Uh…what? From the comments above, the blackface seems to have started out as a necessity, but then, when it wasn’t a necessity, was brought back due to racism. When something is done for racism, sexism, etc, it’s quite hard to reclaim it as neutral.

      I think that if you can’t cast your play or opera ethically, then don’t stage it. It may be a great masterwork, but there are more masterworks than can be performed. If Black is central to the role, and you can’t find a black actor, don’t do it. Similarly, if a specific voice or age is central to the role, and you can’t find someone of the right voice or age, don’t do it.

      • So, in essence, if you can’t be politically correct, don’t do it? What nonsense. I gather you have had little to do with the theater.

        • I didn’t say politically correct; I said ethical. If theater is full of people who don’t see any need to be ethical, then theater should change.

            • Correct, it’s not unethical to do your best at casting, but if your best at casting (and makeup) leads to an unethical situation, you’re still responsible for that.

              And now we get back to white actor X in black makeup or white actor X not in black makeup. I think the ethical calculus tilts toward the latter. If the producers think the character appearing black is a deal breaker, then there choices are to not put on the production, or to be unethical when putting on the production. The group in this case, chose to put on the production with the actor not in black makeup.

              Again, no theatre has to put on this production. It’s a choice. If they can’t do it ethically, they can’t do it ethically.

              • Uh no, I’m not responsible for your fallacious interpretation of my conduct…

                Do you not realize how impossible community would be if we applied that standard? Utterly.

                If the story is to be changed to have a white man playing a white role, then it needs to be clearly stated that Othello is no longer about a Moor of Sub-Saharan origin don’t we?

                “Again, no theatre has to put on this production. It’s a choice. If they can’t do it ethically, they can’t do it ethically.”

                Still begging that ole’ question.

                You have yet to prove that casting the best actors into roles is somehow unethical without appeals to emotion.

                • Uh no, I’m not responsible for your fallacious interpretation of my conduct…

                  Do you not realize how impossible community would be if we applied that standard? Utterly.

                  We do just fine with out appearance of impropriety standard. Community fails when people do things that they know are going to anger others. Like waving the confederate flag. Sure, you mean it as states rights, but it is a sign of racism and slavery, and it’s appropriate to see it that way. Sure, you’re using the Swastika to reference a Hindu god, but it’s not going o come off that way. Sure you meant just that one irish guy was a drunk, but it looks like you referenced them in general.

                  This is pretty much the point of ethics. If X is going to cause issues, then don’t do X unless there are compelling reasons that override the drawbacks. I don’t see that here.

                  “Again, no theatre has to put on this production. It’s a choice. If they can’t do it ethically, they can’t do it ethically.”

                  Still begging that ole’ question.

                  You have yet to prove that casting the best actors into roles is somehow unethical without appeals to emotion.

                  I didn’t beg the question. There are two separate issues here. I think it’s unethical to put the character in black makeup when he could play the character white. I have given my reasons for this. Once we’ve reached a point where the ethical choice is playing white, then we get to the choice the group has of putting on the production. If the only way you’d want to do it is unethical, then don’t do it. It seems there were some comments in this thread that it’s okay to do some unethical things because they are in the tradition of the theater. I reject that.

                  • I don’t think this is “appearance of impropriety” territory. It’s an Opera, not Vaudeville or Stand up. Context matters.

                    The rest of your commentary resting on your flawed analysis of that context unravels once your rectify the earlier part of your argument.

              • But there is, in fact, nothing wrong with a white actor in black make-up when no racial insult or racist statement is intended or achieved, any more than there is something wrong with a football team calling itself the Redskins. The fact that some people believe it is wrong, scream to the skies it is wrong, and go to great lengths to convince the culture it is wrong still doesn’t make it wrong. You seem to be invoking the Second Niggardly Principle, but it doesn’t apply. Being true to the author’s intent and the workings of the script and integrity of the work is a sufficient legitimate goal that the “avoiding needlessly upsetting anyone for no substantive objective” can’t apply.

                It also creates a bad precedent. The very best of the generally terrific Gilbert and Sullivan shows, The Mikado, is done far less today than it deserves because companies don’t want to deal with all the idiots claiming it’s racist, or that the actors shouldn’t be using Asian make-up, or that you have to cast Japanese performers—40 of them—or none at all. “Otello,” like “The Mikado,” should be produced because it’s a great work, and the political correctness controversies should be—ethically—ignored.

                • Why not have the entire cast – except Othello – in blackface?

                  One of the more effective costume arrangements I’ve seen was Bogdanov’s 1990 production of Henry V where the French were in Franco-Prussian war uniforms, the British in cammo with assault rifles, a la Falklands campaign.

  7. Jack, I don’t want to go through everything here, but there’s one paragraph which I find pretty off:

    The story is weakened, the author’s intent is defied, the text doesn’t fit the character. And one more thing: by turning the role of Otello into one that no longer requires a dark-skinned appearance, “Otello” no longer will create special opportunities for the great black tenors who do arrive on the scene. Not for the first time, political correctness fever will harm the very people it purports to shower in sensitivity.

    Is the story actually weakened? If we know the character is black, does it matter if he’s in blackface? Was the story weakened when a black actor played King Lear? Either we force all roles to the race they were originally, or we don’t.

    I don’t see why black actor’s wouldn’t still get preference in playing “Othello.” That’s still the base casting decision for the role. I think the result here is the exact opposite of your comment. If white actors in blackface are okay, then there is no inherent benefit to casting a black actor.

    • I would point out that it is, literally, not as simple as that. He must look not just for a black actor but a black TENOR. This is an opera, and being a tenor, therefore, is the base casting decision.

      • Being black, as well, would be nice, but in the past, that has been handled with make-up. I would also note that virtually every actor on a stage wears make-up, many times to change appearances. Thus, this is NOT “blackface”.

        • One thing I’ve recently learned about tgt…as long as it *feels* racist or bears a slight and fallacious parallel to other racist constructs, then it IS racist.

              • What you call fallacious and *feels* is, to me, pretty well known dog whistles and connotations. From my perspective, it’s you who are limited in your understanding of English language idioms, which is understandable. The refusal to pick up the idioms though, I don’t understand.

                • Yeah…using the words “from Mexico” and “criminals” and “illegal immigrants” in a sentence together is the standard for racism sentence basically because well known racists use those terms together.

                  • Ugh. I didn’t say that. Latinos are stereotyped as rapists and drug dealers. Trump called the immigrants mainly rapists and drug dealers (when, again, they’re less likely to commit crimes). Also, the belief that Mexico is “sending” undesirables to the U.S. lines up well with racist beliefs.

                    • And that’s an actual strawman. Claiming that when I attacked words A and B and ideas C and D, it’s the same as attacking words E and F.

                    • Comer, on, you’re not that gullible. Trump” sending was metaphorical, and was intentionally read as literal. He did not say that illegals were mainly rapists or drug dealers—he was employing exactly the same device as a speaker is who says, “Democrats are young, old, women, blacks, working people, seniors and veterans.”

                      Trump is easy enough to mock using what he did say and does mean; it’s just cheap to try to twist his words when they were more pr less clear. I guess you can claim confirmation bias…that’s the only excuse I can think of, other than intentionally misleading, why someone would say he said that illegals were “mainly” rapists.

                      And as I’ve said before: if one is a rapist who should be here, it’s one too many.

                      I’ve also explained why that “they commit fewer crimes” is a junk statistic, and almost certainly untrue, again, not that it matters much. Accepting crimes by legitimate, lawful immigrants is like accepting that citizens will commit crimes. No crimes by illegal immigrants should be deemed acceptable, and the proportions don’t matter.

                    • I would also go so far as to say that there is no such thing as an illegal alien who is NOT a criminal. They broke the law just by crossing the border illegally, and, hence, are criminals. Further, Trump, who I devoutly hope does NOT get the nomination did not EVER say, or imply, that all illegal aliens were rapists or anything else. To claim that he did is an untruth.

                    • “Latinos are stereotyped as rapists and drug dealers. Trump called the immigrants mainly rapists and drug dealers (when, again, they’re less likely to commit crimes).”

                      To be fair to Trump, he specified illegal immigrants, which by virtue of being in America are breaking the law, which by definition means the demographic (illegal immigrants) has a 100% crime participation rate. The idea that this demographic commits less crime is ridiculous on its face.

                    • God, I am so worn down by the unscrupulous use of “immigrants” for illegal immigrants that I didn’t even catch that. I think tgt is rusty: he’s not a fan of deceit and he insists on precision. Maybe he’s worn down too.

                      Good catch.

            • As I’ve said, I find the harm from the white actor playing the role white to be miniscule, so that option is preferably to any appearance of racism. It’s not like I’ve been even saying that Othello in blackface IS racist, just that it will appear so. Sheesh.

              • Is that the bar we’ve set now? The appearance of racism? Whether it’s racist or not is irrelevant?

                I had this conversation with Beth a few months back, if we cater to the lowest common denominator, if we forbid behaviors because someone might take it (literally) the wrong way, we will very quickly find that we are out of behaviors to exhibit. Sometimes the right answer is some friendly advice or a conversation, and sometimes that conversation will include, “You’re being an oversensitive idiot.”

        • But of course, acting IS acting. Ideally one casts an actor that can BEST represent a character, but it is a huge optimizing balancing act in which certain characteristics are compromised for other characteristics in finding the best actor for the character. After that, one can only hope technology (make-up being amongst the oldest technology in acting) can make up the differences in areas in which certain characteristics were compromised.

          • See, this I agree with. If there wasn’t a history of blackface, I’d be down.

            Our racist past and less, but continued racist present are sad. I would like to see a day when a white person dressing up to be black because they’re the only fit for the roll would not be offensive and racist. I don’t think we are there.

            • So you are saying it’s racist because some people feel it’s racist…

              And we won’t get there until we try, and no one will try with the kinds of chips on shoulders you defend.

              • I’m saying that with the racism still in the country, this will legitimately be taken as racism, even though that is not the intent.

                We need to work on the racist people, not the people who are victims of racism.

                • Uh, the *truly* racist people, who act on it, are marginalized in this society. Wake up. They aren’t creating victims ANYWHERE.

                  The so-called victims of racism these days really aren’t.

                  • Steve “Calves as big as Cantaloupes” King is still in congress, right? We still have all the studies that show that people with black names get treated differently than people with white names? That blacks commit drug crimes at similar rates to whites, but get arrested for it considerably more? And then punished considerably harsher? That blacks commit traffic violations at the same rate as whites, but get stopped considerably more often.

                    Claiming that racism isn’t a problem anymore is delusional.

                    • “We still have all the studies that show that people with black names get treated differently than people with white names?”

                      Pretty sure that isn’t a black-white thing as much as it is a traditional name / non-traditional name…that is to say a resume from “Frederick Valdez” is probably more likely to be picked up than a resume from “Lenin Hatetheman Jones”

                      Wait, how in the hell do you get statistics of crime rates independent from statistics of arrest rates? Is it an estimate or a guess? Also, the problem doesn’t lie in arresting more blacks but in not arresting more whites…this argument has been had before and Jack solidly trounced Deery on that topic. (it was during your period of being driven away).

                    • Pretty sure that isn’t a black-white thing as much as it is a traditional name / non-traditional name…that is to say a resume from “Frederick Valdez” is probably more likely to be picked up than a resume from “Lenin Hatetheman Jones”

                      The studies have been done controlling for last names and first names. Javier Lopez is less likely to get a response that Tim Smith, even though both are traditional names. Braydens and Jacksons, non traditional white names do better than DaMarcus and the like.

                      Wait, how in the hell do you get statistics of crime rates independent from statistics of arrest rates? Is it an estimate or a guess?

                      Self reporting. Whites self report to drugs at the same rate as blacks. We’ve been over this. Also, the rate of stopped cars compared to the rate of people in stopped cars found to be committing crimes backs up the self reporting.

                      Also, the problem doesn’t lie in arresting more blacks but in not arresting more whites…this argument has been had before and Jack solidly trounced Deery on that topic. (it was during your period of being driven away).

                      I don’t understand that first sentence. Are you saying that it’s appropriate to target blacks more than whites? Any idea on a google search term I can use so I can see what the discussion was?

            • To be clear “blackface” was NOT racist because white people portrayed black people.

              It WAS racist because it was white people portraying black people in the worst possible light with the worst possible stereotypes.

                • “still looks racist”.

                  Got it, it’s about feeling and not a rational argument.

                  And your proscription on the need to occasionally cross-racially cast characters will hamper any ability to get past this notion. Do you want to improve or not?

                  • “still looks racist”.

                    Got it, it’s about feeling and not a rational argument.

                    I’d say it’s rational. It’s how “a perception of a conflict of interest” is enough to trigger ethics rules about conflict of interest. That it looks racist isn’t enough to call them racist, but it is enough to suggest they don’t do it. And they can avoid it by simply not putting someone in black makeup…like this group is doing.

                    I’m ignoring the cross racial improve question here as it’s substantially similar to your full stop comment. No need to argue it in two places, right?

                • To whom? Not to anyone who understands the requirement of opera or the nature of performing. And anyone who doesn’t doesn’t matter, just as I don’t care that non-baseball fans find baseball boring. To hell with them. They aren’t watching anyway.

            • But this isn’t black face. This is using hair and make up to make an actor appear to be an African.

              Black face was a stylized and exaggerated make up that in no way made some one look black , it was meant to do to make a comic and insulting statement about blacks. This make up isn’t.

              FYI This is black face. Not what they do in opera.

        • First, fit for the role is fit for the role. If tenor is important, you need a tenor voice. If black is important, you need black skin. That isn’t hard. If you think black isn’t important, why even put on the blackface?

          And bullshit on calling this makeup, not blackface. Just because other actors are also wearing make up to change their appearance does not making changing your appearance to black not blackface.

          • It’s acting, you’ll never find 100% fit for a role unless you drum up the actual person being portrayed. It’s all an optimizing balance – you’ll never get 100% in ALL categories you seek to match.

            Also, your last paragraph borders on special pleading, the likely rationale to defend it from being special pleading is that “some people may feel like this is blackface”. But that isn’t a rational argument and is why this is probably special pleading.

            • I agree with the first paragraph, and I don’t think it’s counter to my statements.

              I don’t see how the second statement is special pleading. Wearing makeup to look black has a racist history. Wearing makeup otherwise, does not (to my knowledge). It’s not special pleading to think that doing something with a racist history is likely to be seen as racist, and should be avoided.

              In this case, I think the drawbacks of the actor looking white are less than the drawbacks of making the white actor black.

              • Then you are putting a full stop on the ability to “get past the racist connotations of blackface”. Until people start seeing whites portray blacks in NON-denigrating ways, then it WILL NOT BE HEALED.

                • Or we go until there’s less racism in the country, so people are more open to the possibility.

                  Also, where am I presuming malice. Clearly not of the theater company. I’ve explicitly said the opposite. I don’t see any claim of mine that people calling it racist have malice in mind. What’s up?

                  • “Or we go until there’s less racism in the country”

                    You know full well your ilk will never claim there is “less racism” in this country.

                    Now, if you want to make a good faith effort in healing what little racial tensions there are massive tensions there are after race baiters in the Obama-era wrecked the house, you can’t continue to the hold the false notion that racism is everywhere. You simply can’t.

                    I know this is a massive hurdle as one of the basic tenets and first principles of the Leftist world-view is that America is hopelessly racist.

                    • “Or we go until there’s less racism in the country”

                      You know full well your ilk will never claim there is “less racism” in this country.

                      My “ilk”? You mean the people who do say there’s less racism now then before? That point out that it’s improved from even 10 years ago (when we were also told there was no racism)?

                      Now, if you want to make a good faith effort in healing what little racial tensions there are massive tensions there are after race baiters in the Obama-era wrecked the house, you can’t continue to the hold the false notion that racism is everywhere. You simply can’t.

                      And somehow, you don’t see comments like this as racism. The mind boggles.

                      I know this is a massive hurdle as one of the basic tenets and first principles of the Leftist world-view is that America is hopelessly racist.

                      As noted, the left sees there has been improvement and would like more. Denying a problem does not lead to more improvement. We are hopeful that knowledge of the problem and working against the problem will improve the situation. It’s the opposite of hopeless. Where are you getting that from?

                    • Yes, your ilk – and no, the euphemistic characterizations are just obfuscation.

                      No, it wasn’t a racist comment, that you think it is is what boggles the mind. You must have a completely different dictionary than that which rational people use.

                      You say you want to improve the situation, but you shut down all opportunities to do so or to show that actions that irrationally hypersensitive people deem as racist really are not racist.

                    • Yes, your ilk – and no, the euphemistic characterizations are just obfuscation.

                      What euphemism did I use? I pointed out that the people you normally lump into my “ilk” have acted directly contrary to how you believe they act.

                      No, it wasn’t a racist comment, that you think it is is what boggles the mind. You must have a completely different dictionary than that which rational people use.

                      You think racism has been marginalized to an afterthought, when numerous studies show it’s still prominent. You claim anyone making a racism claim is a race baiter. I stand by my statement.

                      You say you want to improve the situation, but you shut down all opportunities to do so or to show that actions that irrationally hypersensitive people deem as racist really are not racist.

                      I want to improve the situation by bringing awareness to the current racism that still exists (and you, inexplicably, deny). I don’t think that doing things that will be seen as racist will help the problem.

                    • “What euphemism did I use?”

                      You said “until there is ‘less’ racism”. Given the constraints of your use of the word “less” earlier to mean merely less than before that surely couldn’t be what you intended by “less” in this instance, otherwise the criteria would be met to engage in non-racist behavior that could be mistaken as racist. So therefore when you say “until there is ‘less’ racism” you must’ve really meant “until there is a very low amount of racism”.

                      That is why I said what I said, and given the context, what I said, paralleling your phraseology should be understood as “your ilk will never say there is a very low amount of racism…” And you know that is true. Leftist race-grievence industrialists THRIVE on the need to cry racism at every turn.

                      “You think racism has been marginalized to an afterthought, when numerous studies show it’s still prominent.”

                      I think meaningful racism that creates *real* harm has been generally marginalized except for the occasional fluke. Yes. Being that everything is on a sliding scale in society, much less harmful forms of racism probably are more prevalent, though I would still submit not to any serious degree.

                      “You claim anyone making a racism claim is a race baiter.”

                      That would be a overtly false statement. I did say that race baiters during the Obama-era have wrecked the [very very noticeable level of improvement in race relations in this country]. Nowhere did I say everyone crying racism was a race baiter… nice try though, you’ll need to retract your comment at this point.

                      “I stand by my statement.”

                      A house built on sand…

                      “I want to improve the situation by bringing awareness to the current racism that still exists (and you, inexplicably, deny).”

                      Another false claim. See my commentary above.

          • Except its not blackface. You can say it is all you want but its not. Calling it blackface just makes it easier for you and others to attack it. Its a trigger word that gets people up in arms, as real blackface should I may add, so no one can have a conversation about what this really is.

            By your reasoning this is blackface.

  8. I’m going to attempt to get to the bottom of tgt and texagg04’s dispute.

    First, why was classic blackface wrong and/or harmful? I stipulate that the answer is twofold:

    1. It promoted inaccurate generalizations regarding a group of people.
    2. It was disrespectful, mean, and mocking towards people who had not earned such treatment, leaving aside the question of whether such treatment could be earned anyway.

    I haven’t thought of any other reasons offhand, but if anyone else can come up with more, by all means share them.

    I am hoping that the enumeration of the above traits will obviate the use of the term “racism” to describe an actor’s portrayal of a person who doesn’t look like the actor, because they are a functional definition rather than a nebulous and contested one.

    Now, the goal here is to establish that modern “trans-racial” makeup can avoid both of those traits. The reason this is difficult is because of confirmation bias. People are less likely to register counterexamples, i.e. positively-portrayed minorities, than they are to register stereotypes. Confirmation bias is, of course, the reason stereotypes exist in the first place, and now it serves to prevent people from establishing that they are not portraying someone as a stereotype. Thus, an audience is more likely to register all the ways in which a fictional character fulfills a stereotype than to notice the ways in which the character defies it. If the stereotype is negative and the actor does not belong to the group of people, the portrayal is perceived as mockery, and because people associate the performance with a stereotype, it is seen as promoting a generalization, and one which is almost certainly inaccurate.

    I just now realized that, logically speaking, if the portrayal does the character justice as a nuanced individual, the racial prejudice must be in the people who claim that the performance is stereotypical. If they can look at a complex character and see a stereotype to complain about, what do they see when they look at a real person?

    Unless of course they don’t bother watching the performance and judge based on the historical associations of dark makeup, which makes exactly as much sense as judging based on the historical associations of white people interacting with black people (very little), which they do also. .

    Thus we keep coming back to the basic problem with human society: humans are silly. Until we solve that problem, we can’t make lasting progress on any of these other issues.

    For the record, in case it wasn’t clear, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with an actor being made up to look like any character, black, white, male, female, Klingon, or Vulcan, and I am troubled that people would object on that basis alone.

    I suppose I could be generous and say that opponents might think that it is makeup, rather than the lack thereof, which would result in black actors being seen as superfluous. That’s a credible argument, and one I haven’t figured out yet one way or the other, but I don’t think it’s the one most people are making.

    • Well stated, and one more component: the dramatic arts have been trying to both open up new ways to interpret older works and traditional approaches to them, and to avoid stereotypes in casting in part in order to broaden the opportunities for women and minorities. Any restrictions on casting and presentation based on any non artistic objectives are anti-artistic, and this out of place and misapplied.

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