A Blackface ‘Othello’ Shocks and a Professor Steps Back from Class


“Of course, facing criticism for my misjudgment as a professor here is unlike the experience faced by many Chinese professors during the Cultural Revolution,” he wrote. “But we feel uncomfortable because we live in an age where people can try to destroy the career and reputation of others by public denigration. I’m not too old to learn and this mistake has taught me a lot.”

Professor Sheng, who joined the Michigan faculty in 1995 and holds the title of Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor in the faculty, was born in Shanghai in 1955. As a teenager during the Cultural Revolution, he auditioned for an officially sanctioned folk music ensemble to avoid being sent to a farm to be “retrained” and was sent to Qinghai province, a remote area near the Tibetan border., according to a college biography.

After universities reopened in 1976, he earned a degree in composition from Shanghai University and moved to the United States in 1982, eventually earning a PhD at Columbia University.

Based on an 18th-century Chinese literary classic, featuring an acclaimed 2016 opera “Red Room Dream” It blends elements of Eastern and Western music. “When someone asks me whether I consider myself a Chinese or an American composer, I most humbly say ‘both 100 percent,'” he said.

The Olivier movie was controversial even when it was new. Bosley Crowther, critic for The New York Times expressed shock Noticing Olivier “stealing Othello with a black face”, his “curly black hair wig”, his lips “smeared and thickened with an eerie raspberry red” and an exaggerated accent that he describes as “reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy”. (“To the sensitive American audience,” wrote Crowther, Olivier looked like someone in a “bard show.”)

In an emailed response to The Times’ questions, Professor Sheng said that the purpose of the class was to show how Verdi adapted Shakespeare’s play into an opera, and that he chose Olivier simply because it was “one of the best films.” She’s most faithful to Shakespeare.” She also said she didn’t see makeup as an attempt to mock Black people, but as part of a long tradition — a tradition that continues in opera — and that she values ​​the “quality of the singers’ music” more than physical resemblance.



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