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Wed Nov 11, 2015, 03:27 AM

Playwright Reacts to the White Casting of MLK in The Mountaintop

http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/11/the_white_version_of_mlk_in_the_mountaintop.2.html

“I remember he had the prettiest skin I had ever seen. Flawless. So chocolate you could see yourself reflected in it,” Carrie Hall, my mother, recounted wistfully. On March 28, 1968, she had caught a glimpse of Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to Memphis, Tenn., to lead a march for sanitation workers. It quickly descended into a police-provoked riot fueled by tear gas and bullets. My mother remembers fleeing for her life to the safety of her home, mere blocks from the Lorraine Motel. Seven days later, King would be murdered at that very motel, a sniper’s bullet piercing his flawless brown skin.

My mother’s brush with history became the bedrock of my play The Mountaintop, a reimagining of King’s last night on earth before his assassination. A conversation between the civil rights leader and a hotel maid named Camae weaves through the night as King wrestles with the weight of his legacy.

Imagine my surprise when, on Oct. 4, 2015, at midnight in London, I received an email from a colleague sending me a link to Kent State University’s amateur production of the play. The actor playing King stood there, hands outstretched, his skin far from chocolate but a creamy buff. At first glance I was like, “Unh-uh, maybe he light-skinned. Don’t punish the brother for being able to pass.” But further Googling told me otherwise.

Director Michael Oatman had indeed double-cast the role of King with a black actor and a white actor for a six-performance run at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies African Community Theater. Kent State had broken a world record; it was the first Mountaintop production to make King white."


http://www.hesherman.com/2015/10/29/when-a-white-actor-goes-to-the-mountaintop/

"For his production, under the auspices of the African Community Theatre at Kent State, Michael Oatman who is the company creative director this year, said that he had double cast the role of Dr. King, with a black actor performing for three shows and a white actor performing for three shows. In an interview on the university website, Oatman explained his concept":

"I truly wanted to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity. I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” said Oatman about his non-traditional cast. “I wanted the contrast . . . I wanted to see how the words rang differently or indeed the same, coming from two different actors, with two different racial backgrounds.”

We’re not going to see a repeat of this particular case unless Katori Hall says it’s OK. And maybe we’ll see much more specific character descriptions in scripts in the wake of this incident – but hopefully we’ll also see playwrights making clear when they not only allow, but encourage, racially diverse casts, as a signal to directors that diversity and indeed variety is desirable."

From the first article, Ms. Hall says it's not OK.




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Reply Playwright Reacts to the White Casting of MLK in The Mountaintop (Original post)
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 OP
MADem Nov 2015 #1
elehhhhna Nov 2015 #2
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #4
elehhhhna Nov 2015 #7
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #3
Starry Messenger Nov 2015 #5
MADem Nov 2015 #6
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #8
Starry Messenger Nov 2015 #9
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #10
Number23 Nov 2015 #11
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #12
Chitown Kev Nov 2015 #13
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #14
Chitown Kev Nov 2015 #15
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #16
Chitown Kev Nov 2015 #17
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #18
Chitown Kev Nov 2015 #19
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #20
Chitown Kev Nov 2015 #23
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #24
randys1 Nov 2015 #21
Kind of Blue Nov 2015 #22
lovemydog Nov 2015 #25

Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 03:53 AM

1. Is this a thing of late, to push boundaries on the stage? In the new musical play HAMILTON,

Thomas Jefferson is played by a black actor--and the slavery issue is addressed in the performance.



&list=PLbBw-9mDuBBf4bNSBGEv-4IjBRGb8XHOI

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Response to MADem (Reply #1)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 08:28 AM

2. It has always been a thing to push boundaries on the stage,

 

I just saw my daughter in a college production all-female of Julius Caesar... They set it in a women's prison it was amazing

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Response to elehhhhna (Reply #2)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 09:53 AM

4. I get that but it's surprising the director

didn't get permission from the living author of the play to push this boundary on MLK, Jr. The production, as far as I know, has stopped using the white actor because she says it is not okay.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #4)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 12:11 PM

7. itbwould have been appropriate to ask. true.

 

Seems like a bad idea regardless

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Response to MADem (Reply #1)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 09:51 AM

3. As far as "Hamilton," I haven't read anything

about the play or why a PoC was chosen to play him. From what I understand, there has been a little controversy about Alexander Hamilton's heritage, one of two "bastard" (I hate that word) sons of a Scotsman and his mother of unknown African ancestry from the Nevis, where Hamilton was born. Anecdotal stuff but given the history of slavery and miscegenation - rape of enslaved women included, I understand pushing artistic boundaries.

Oh, I didn't know Jefferson is played by a black actor. Well, I know for sure that Jefferson had an unusual Y-chromosome with its highest frequency in Oman, Somalia and Iraq. It was kinda big news a few years ago. So I think the authors probably knew and pushing the boundaries of what is considered race, nothing but a construct of man's inhumanity to man.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 11:23 AM

5. I feel like some white people go out of their way to

willfully distort that quote of King's: "I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,”

I think that was his elegant way of saying, stop judging Black people because of the color of their skin. I never in any way interpreted that to mean that he felt white people had been unfairly judged and that white supremacy was not a thing.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #5)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 11:29 AM

6. I so agree with you on that! nt

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #5)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 12:29 PM

8. What's really crazy is that the director is a black man.

It just makes me wonder if he would have had more respect for the author, by asking for permission, if the author was male. It's just so incredibly rude on so many levels.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #8)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 01:05 PM

9. Wow, sorry, I just assumed!

Bad of me! But that does make it even more wtf. That part about "true exploration" seemed to hold a lot of unpacked assumptions about what King really meant, or the playwright really meant. To me it speaks to colorblindness, and given the history of white casting for Black characters, seems really culturally off-tone to me.

Interesting point about the author being a woman. Everyone assumes women will just be ok with everything, or that we will feel grateful for our work being exposed to the public, no matter in what form or context we may have intended.

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Response to Starry Messenger (Reply #9)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 02:03 PM

10. Oh, no problem. That's understandable.

"seems really culturally off-tone to me." Indeed, can we first start moving to seeing the content of character in black bodies as the norm, as Dr. King said, referring to his own black children, before some post-racialist crap using a white body to display character? Ugh, so infuriating!

I really do hope a more in-depth interview of the director is coming. I cannot understand WTF he's trying to do other than whip up controversy by drawing attention to his work.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 04:54 PM

11. Such a weird and fascinating subject. Thanks for posting this!

I made a joke about a month ago that if Hollywood could cast Brad Pitt to play MLK they would. And damn, it didn't take long for my "joke" to be on its way to becoming reality!

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Response to Number23 (Reply #11)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 08:32 PM

12. Goodness, if I had read that a month ago

I would have had a good laugh thinking that is a good joke and impossible in this day and age. It's amazing that every thing that we could imagine under the heel of this system is possible

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 10:12 PM

13. For a limited theater production (especially in a college theater)

I'm OK with experimentation like this....experiments in a college theater production should be allowed to push the envelope.

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Response to Chitown Kev (Reply #13)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 10:25 PM

14. Not without the living author's consent.

"According to Hall, neither Oatman, who is the Creative Director of the African Community Theater, nor Kent State contacted her before making the decision, a choice she calls 'disrespectful.' Hall learned about the decision only after the play had closed.

In August, Oatman billed the decision to cast both a white and black actor as a 'true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.' But needless to say, Hall remains unimpressed with the decision. In an interview with the Guardian, she said:

'I just really feel as though it echoes this pervasive erasure of the black body and the silencing of a black community – theatrically and also, literally, in the world.'

In response to Kent State’s decision, Hall has updated The Mountaintop’s licensing agreement to indicate that the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. must be played by a black actor. Any other casting decisions now require Hall’s approval."


http://jezebel.com/the-mountaintop-playwright-understandably-upset-that-a-1741831513?trending_test_b&utm_expid=66866090-62.YkETBcIMTk2uX1oytHipyg.2&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #14)

Wed Nov 11, 2015, 10:32 PM

15. I understand the playwright's POV

Tennessee Williams did something similar regarding some of his plays and what you can and can't cut from the script.

I think it's an interesting experiment for a college theater ( as someone who was a dramaturg for several different types of productions, I'm always willing to grant license to experiments like this...mine may be a minority view on this topic.)

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Response to Chitown Kev (Reply #15)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 06:48 PM

16. Mr. Williams was probably granted his

rights to determine what could and couldn't be cut from script before the act, as is the right of the author, and that's the huge difference. As an artist, this story literally turns my stomach.

Even with dramaturgy(?) - Ha! I had to look that up - in the Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights, there is explicit instructions against what the director did:

"It has been well-established in case law, beginning with "the Rent Case" (Thompson v. Larson) that neither dramaturgs nor directors (nor any other contributors) may be considered a co-author of a play, unless (i) they've collaborated with you from the play's inception, (ii) they've made a copyrightable contribution to the play, and (iii) you have agreed in writing that they are a co-author."

Maybe one day there could be a white MLK, Jr. but not today and not without the author's permission. He should write his own damn play instead of biting off of someone else's hard work. The nerve

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #16)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 07:13 PM

17. Well, In Williams' case

there's also the specificity regarding the stage directions.

As someone who has done dramaturgy, though, that would actually be a significant statement by the author when she talked about what her mother said about Dr. King's "chocolate" skin...the author even raised an eyebrow at the idea of a light-skinned Dr. King (and, FTR, I think that I agree with the author on that point).

Even in her statement, she didn't seem inherently opposed to the idea of a white King on stage; she resented not being asked about it and I can certainly feel her on that point.

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Response to Chitown Kev (Reply #17)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 07:34 PM

18. Not opposed?

"'I just really feel as though it echoes this pervasive erasure of the black body and the silencing of a black community – theatrically and also, literally, in the world.'

In response to Kent State’s decision, Hall has updated The Mountaintop’s licensing agreement to indicate that the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. must be played by a black actor. Any other casting decisions now require Hall’s approval."


It's too bad that she had to actually update the licensing because the Dramatist Bill of Rights goes out of its way to define an author's rights, down to the approval of cast.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #18)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 07:55 PM

19. I read this story at the Guardian

Oatman did not respond to a request for comment, but Hall said she had a respectful phone call with the director about a month after he staged the play at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies’ African Community Theatre from late September to early October.

She said that Oatman did not discuss the decision to use a white actor with her before the play ran and called the decision “disrespectful”.

Hall said she thought that if a director was going to experiment like Oatman did, then they should include a discussion with the audience or create another forum to measure the success of such an exercise.


http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/10/martin-luther-king-white-actor-university

Which is usually what happens in an experimental situation: there's an audience discussion...but she doesn't seem (in that quote) to be inherently opposed to the idea

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Response to Chitown Kev (Reply #19)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 08:13 PM

20. Agreed that she didn't but he blew it

and she now stipulates the role is only for a black actor and any casting decision now requires her approval.

I'm totally for reimaginings of works. I'm now even more disappointed that he was in communicado with her and chose to take that route. A route I think most artists would take umbrage to - changing of central character with no permission.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #20)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 08:20 PM

23. Especially with a casting like that

you had better damn well consult the playwright (or, if the playwright is deceased nowadays, whomever is in charge of those permissions) before going there...

“I remember he had the prettiest skin I had ever seen. Flawless. So chocolate you could see yourself reflected in it,”


Remember, there's the same problem with the casting of Nina Simone as light-skinned (and I like Zoe Saldana)

When Zoe Saldana was announced as the lead in the Nina Simone biopic, some fans were outraged. Simone was known as a singer that celebrated her ethnic looks and being an African American woman with dark skin. The singer rose above her struggles, despite the racism that she faced, and the subject of her pain was at times the main context in her songs.


Saldana, on the other hand, is a lighter-skinned actress with more European features. When photos of Saldana on set surfaced, it could be seen the actress was wearing makeup to make her appear darker-skinned, along with what appeared to be prosthetics for her nose.

Then, fans didn’t hear any development about the biopic, save for Simone’s daughter being against the film, as well. It is not known if this set the production back, but actress Zoe Saldana is finally opening up to say she isn’t happy with the process — from the filming to the limbo that production is in right now.



http://www.inquisitr.com/2550953/zoe-saldana-speaks-on-nina-simone-biopic-delay-she-deserves-better/


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Response to Chitown Kev (Reply #23)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 08:36 PM

24. Exactly! Little known activism going on

right now - seen it frequently only on Facebook - of artists fighting an incredible amount of theft going on. And friends alerting each other of who's outright stealing whose works. Artists are the most generous people I know and it breaks our hearts when we'd give something freely for a cause or whatever just for the asking.

I really couldn't believe the casting of Saldana. I think I've seen everything she's done because I like her so much. But Good Lord, it seems like such a slap to the face of Ms. Simone. If the movie gets thru production, I don't think I'd have the stomach to watch it, especially knowing now Ms. Simone's daughter disapproves.

Maybe when they do a black JFK I'd go see that and all the other thefts of identity they're pushing nowadays.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 08:15 PM

21. Everybody gonna be Brown soon anyway. Cant happen soon enough

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Response to randys1 (Reply #21)

Thu Nov 12, 2015, 08:19 PM

22. LOL! Oh, randys1. You're a trip n/t

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Fri Nov 13, 2015, 05:04 AM

25. I read the headline quickly

and thought it was about putting an image of MLK in a White Castle on a mountain top.

And I would have believed someone would do that too.

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