Theater director Michael Oatman decided to exercise an experimental casting choice for his Kent State University production of the stage play The Mountaintop!
But the Ohio college production has enraged playwright Katori Hall — because a white actor was cast to play the lead character of Martin Luther King Jr.!
The writer of the award-winning play, which depicts MLK and a motel maid on the night before he is killed, called the Ohio production “a self-serving and disrespectful directing exercise,” in an online essay.
“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.”
The amateur production premiered at the university’s Department of Pan-African Studies African Community Theater for six performances in September, where Oatman double-cast the role of the slain civil rights leader with a black actor and white actor!
Oatman has reportedly spoken to the playwright, telling her the casting choice was an experiment in “racial ownership and authenticity.” He said:
“I wanted to see if a white actor, or a light-skinned actor, had the same cultural buy-in and could portray Dr. King. Dr. King is not just a prominent African American, he’s a prominent American. Why can’t an American play another prominent American?”
Maybe because King lead the civil rights movement and is one of the most recognizable African American leaders in history?
Either way, Hall isn’t buying it. She added a clause to the licensing agreement for The Mountaintop demanding approval from the author before casting an actor who isn’t African-American or black.
While Hall notes the nontraditional casting of non-white actors in white roles like the broadway hit Hamilton is a new trend, she argues the same approach doesn’t work with white actors playing a historically black role! She wrote:
“├óΓé¼╦£Black versions’ are a direct response to the persistent exclusion and lack of roles for black actors working in the dramatic arts, and only further highlight the historically racist programming practices of American theater.”
What do YOU think?
[Image via KentWired.]