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Oliver Parkers Vision of Othello - Personal Statement Example

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In an era when many popular icons of entertainment and athletics proudly claim mixed ethnic backgrounds, it is at times hard to understand why race remains such a powerful issue. However, the most superficial of all of our differences as people - the color of our exterior - remains one of the most problematic differences…
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Oliver Parkers Vision of Othello
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Oliver Parkers Vision of Othello

Download file to see previous pages... As one might expect, these tensions are often portrayed in the visual media, such as photography, advertising, television, and film. One African-American actor perhaps best known for his role as B.A. Baracus in The A-Team, Mr. T., was always seen almost burdened down by his golden chains, and always submissive to his European-American leader, Hannibal Smith. This image of the African-American male as a caged animal struck a chord among cultural analysts at the time, who saw the stereotype as harmful.
Representation of characters of different races in what might be termed stereotypical situations, costumes, or patterns of behavior is not limited to modern American media, however. The 1995 film version of Othello, directed by Oliver Parker, is one attempt to take a story almost 400 years old and make it applicable to modern audiences. The original play was written by William Shakespeare in the early 1600's, and Shakespeare's England was also a culture that had its own peculiar notions of what it meant to be black, or African. As early as 1596, in fact, Queen Elizabeth I was known to complain about the large numbers of black people in England. It was the color itself that gave the English pause: as Winthrop Jordan notes, "in Englandthe concept of blackness was loaded with intense meaning. Long before they found that some men were black, Englishmen found in the idea of blackness a way of expressing some of their most ingrained values"(2). In its editions before the sixteenth century, the Oxford English Dictionary included in its definition of the word black the following definitions: "deeply stained with dirt; soiled, dirty, foul, having dark of deadly purposesfoul, iniquitous, atrociousliability to punishment"(Jordan 2). When the English discovered that there were people walking the planet with that particular color of skin, their attitudes about the color itself significantly affected their expectations about the way that black people would behave. Additionally, Geographical Historie of Africa, by Leo Africanus, was translated into English in 1600 and portrayed the African as having a much more chaotic idea of proper sexual standards than that held in England at that time (Hall 29).
And so Othello becomes a lightning rod for debate, not only in his appearance in blackface in the Globe Theater in Shakespeare's day, but in more modern film portrayals. The earlier film adaptations tended to make Othello look more bronze than black, effectively removing the question of racism from the discussion of the play. Later versions, including the 1995 version that stars Laurence Fishburne as the Moor, take a slightly larger interest in the racial aspects of the story. Elliott Butler-Evans succinctly summarizes the ways that the more modern films have attempted to take on the issue of race in Othello:
As a Moor, he is clearly presented as Other, but not necessarily an offensive Other; the qualifier noble Moor does not extricate him from the realm of the exotic, yet it undermines the perception of him as evil. The association of him with blackness and its numerous signifieds, however, clearly locates him in the world of the undesirable. This blackness is articulated in a culture in which black is the color of ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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