Katori Hall, the writer of the critically acclaimed The Mountaintop play, appalled (and rightfully so) at Kent State University’s decision to cast a white actor to portray Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in an adaptation of her art.
And she lashed out in an informative op-ed published on The Root.
Here is an excerpt:
Had the director and school reached out to this living playwright, they would have learned that I actually believe that race is a mental construct and that I have urged race-revolutionary casting for a few works. In fact, when I received news in London of the white King, I had just left a workshop at the National for my play Children of Killers, about the aftermath of the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. I had urged the directors to cast for diversity within their youth groups, providing the caveat that casting must drive home the major theme: that lines of identity were arbitrarily drawn by colonial powers, rendering signifiers of “racial” identity unreliable. However, with the majority of my work, what I have committed to is visually articulating a certain skin experience.
Black writers dedicated to using black bodies, who remain at the center of a devalued narrative, are committing a revolutionary act. We are using theater to demand a witnessing. Our experiences have been shaped by a ragged history, and dark skin has proved to be a dangerous inheritance. From Eric Garner to the Charleston Nine to the latest black girl slammed to the ground by a cop, our bodies have been used as a battlefield where the Civil War has mutated and continues to claim the lives of those who should have been freed from the sharp knife of racism centuries ago.
The casting of a white King is committing yet another erasure of the black body. Sure, it might be in the world of pretend, but it is disrespectful nonetheless, especially to a community that has rare moments of witnessing itself, both creatively and literally, in the world.
It’s true that Oatman only fell halfway off the “turn-up” truck; the white actor was indeed sharing the role with another black actor. But the fact that this mystery actor has remained nameless further demonstrates the erasure of the black body in this experiment. Even on the school newspaper’s website, only the white actor’s name is listed.
Let Us be clear on the issue here. This isn’t the affirmative equivalent of Quvenzhané Wallis being cast as Little Orphan Annie; an alternate take on outlining the common hero/heroine as an adorable, unassuming and earnest Caucasian individual. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a historic figure whose likeness and race was the prime reason for his legacy.
When entertainment tries to make us forget this fact, we become “bleached” as a society.
Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN.com
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