A white actor was cast as Martin Luther King, and the playwright isn’t happy

'Hell, even in Russia, where black actors are scarce, the theater moved mountains to cast two black actors for the reading.'

Christopher Hooton
Wednesday 11 November 2015 16:27 GMT
Comments
(Rex)

Playwright Katori Hall has accused Kent State University of perpetuating the “pervasive erasure of the black body and the silencing of a black community” by casting a white man as Martin Luther King in her play The Mountaintop.

In an essay for African American culture site The Root, she described the casting as “a disservice to not just Dr King but an entire community.”

The play reimagines Dr King’s last night before his assassination and requires two actors to play the part.

“While it is true that I never designated in the play text that King and Camae be played by black actors, reading comprehension and good-old scene analysis would lead any director to cast black or darker-complexioned actors,” Hall said.

“Hell, even in Russia, where black actors are scarce, the theater moved mountains to cast two black actors for the reading.”

Cristal Christian and Robert Branch rehearse scenes for the play The Mountaintop at Kent State University (Picture: KentWired.com)
Cristal Christian and Robert Branch rehearse scenes for the play The Mountaintop at Kent State University (Picture: KentWired.com)

The university production’s director, Michael Oatman, defended the decision to cast a white and a black actor however, telling The Guardian that the choice went “deeper than just casting a white man in the role of MLK.”

It was apparently intended to be provocative, with Oatman adding in a statement that was released in August to promote the play that he chose a white man “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,” 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.”

Following the debacle, Hall has added a clause in The Mountaintop’s licensing agreement stating that: “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.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in