- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A playwright has accused Kent State University of race revisionism after a white actor was cast as Martin Luther King Jr. in the school’s amateur production of her play “The Mountaintop.”

Katori Hall, whose play dramatizes the night before King was assassinated in 1968, said director Michael Oatman’s decision to double-cast the Kent State production with a black actor and a white actor as King went “deeper than just casting a white man in the role of MLK,” The Guardian reported.

“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,” she said.

Mr. Oatman, who like Ms. Hall is also black, said in an August statement that he chose a white actor “to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity,” The Guardian reported.

“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,” Mr. Oatman said. “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.”

Ms. Hall said the director did not discuss the decision to use a white actor with her before the play ran at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies’ African Community Theater from late September to early October.

“With a playwright’s intention being dangerously distorted, Oatman’s experiment proved to be a self-serving and disrespectful directing exercise for a paying audience,” Ms. Hall wrote in an essay for The Root.

Ms. Hall said that the Kent State production prompted her to adjust the play’s licensing agreement, which now reads, “Both characters are intended to be played by actors who are African-American or Black. Any other casting choice requires the prior approval of the author.”

“Black writers dedicated to using black bodies, who remain at the center of a devalued narrative, are committing a revolutionary act,” Ms. Hall argued. “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. … 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.”


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