Oliviers Othello: A Racially Charged Performance - Essay Example

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Olivier’s Othello bears out an utter commitment to white preconceived notions of blackness and to the desires, both theatrical and cultural, that these preconceived notions create. Coated into a white body, blackness could be created and seen as a theatrical act. …
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Oliviers Othello: A Racially Charged Performance
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Othello has a very controversial cinematic history. As the Othello (1952) of Orson Welles has been viewed as moderating the blackness of Othello by means of its black-and-white cinematic effect, the Othello (1965) of Laurence Olivier had to confront intense negative reactions due to its “quite appalling projection of racist stereotypes” (Sackel, Gobel, & Hamdy 223). Olivier’s Othello is racist because of the black make-up and a somewhat denigrating portrayal of blackness (Sackel et al. 223): “a vulgar, open-mouthed, lip-smacking laugh, and an inclination to sensuality”. Olivier totally blackened himself with black make-up to depict Othello, and he also made his own accent that threw the act into laughable portrayal.
Most apparently, Othello embodies an arena through which the issue of blackness in the white body becomes evident. Laurence Olivier, in his autobiography, talks about totally changing himself to depict Othello, “creating the image which now looked back at me from the mirror” (Boose & Burt 26):
Black all over my body, Max Factor 2880, then a lighter brown, then Negor No. 2, a stronger brown. Brown on black to give a rich mahogany. Then the great trick: that glorious half-yard of chiffon with which I polished myself all over until I shone... The lips blueberry, the tight curled wig, the white of the eyes, whiter than ever and the black, black sheen that covered my flesh and bones, glistening in the dressing room lights... I am, I.... I am Othello... but Olivier is in charge. The actor is in control. The actor breathes into the nostrils of the character and the character comes to life. For this moment in my time, Othello is my character- he’s mine. He belongs to no one else; he belongs to me.
Olivier deliberately defines the basic features of Othello in terms of racial aesthetics. His theatrical misrepresentation of the racial qualities of Othello could express a deep, if unintentional, dissident remarks and observations, revealing the subjective and false social norms that undetectably create our racial prejudice. Olivier’s depiction of his making of Othello portrays both an actor explaining his art and a white individual visualising a black person. Indeed, much of the film’s unwritten proof that definitely ascertains Othello as an African also brings to mind a performer’s vanity: “sooty bosom,” (Kolin 35) or, as “begrimed and black/ As mine own face” (Kolin 35). These are cinematic instances, intentional or not, that generally forms a character and unravels an actor’s art. The repercussions are somewhat rebellious, provoking the audience to perceive as culturally created the core attributes that racial prejudice necessitates. Obsessing over his blackened self, Olivier rubs out differences between black and white, owning the character like a colonial good. Even though he confesses that “throwing away the white man was difficult but fascinating,” (Boose & Burt 26) he visualizes that he can “feel black down to [his] soul” (Boose & Burt 26) and “look out from a black man’s world” (Boose & Burt 26), in such a way that impersonation could wipe out ideas of dissimilarities and put off the intricacy of power relationship between white and black identities into the gratifying fullness of a decisive cultural masquerade. During the scene of seduction, Othello contemplates, “Haply for I am black” (Vaughan 94), and when he is finally persuaded of Desdemona’s betrayal, he claims that “Her name, that was as fresh/ As Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black/ As mine own face” (Vaughan 94). Obviously, ‘begrimed’ implies an unclean, filthy, ugly veneer. ‘Grime’ reverberates in Othello’s “I here look grim as hell” (Vaughan 94). Emilia insists that Othello is ‘ignorant as dirt’, a ‘filthy bargain’, and ‘the blacker devil’, after the killing (Anderson 10). All these words— Read More
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Wonderful paper! Used it to complete an assignment for a english course. It was easy as ABC, for the first time in my life.
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