While I am involved with this as a volunteer the following is all my own conjecture, opinion and so on, you know the drill, use your brain, blah, etc…
This last few weeks I’ve been involved in rehearsals for Birmingham Opera‘s production of Othello. It opens on Saturday 5th so the publicity is in full flow. The poster looks like this, or a variation thereof.
Which, if you’re sufficiently up to date with popular culture, might remind you of this.
No, its not the same photo. Look closely. The Othello one has extremely similar makeup but underneath is a black man.
So far, so pop-culture-reference and not very interesting. So have a look at this:
That’s This Time cover featuring President Obama of the United States photoshopped in the style of Heath Ledger playing The Joker in The Dark Knight. It was done by a student for a laugh (when the film came out there was a wave of people Joker-ifying faces like this) and shared on Flickr – just another piece of flotsam in the ocean of stuff that is the Internet.
But then someone, and no-one knows who or why, took the image and turned it into this:
The reason the image looks slightly analogue, like a painting, is because they didn’t post it online – it was posted offline all over LA.
The image has since been taken up by anti-Obama blogs and sites and loads of right-wing blogs have this in their sidebar. (If you’re keeping score that’s a jpeg of a photo of a print out of a photoshop of a photoshop of a magazine cover.)
The thing is, while the original Time Magazine cover was done for an apolitical laugh and we don’t know the reasoning behind the Socialism posters the subsequent adoption by the US Right of the image is quite blatant. It’s become an icon for the President being of questionable trustworthiness. And, of course, it’s an image of a black man in white makeup. Which given the way America has it’s panties in a right old twist over race is fascinating. But what does it have to do with the Othello opera taking place in Birmingham UK next month?
Here’s the thing. Until this performance in Birmingham, with Ronald Samm (right) taking the lead, there has never been a production of Verdi’s Othello opera by a professional company in the UK where Othello has been played by a black man. This is because the role is incredibly hard and there just aren’t that many tenors who can do it. And when it is performed quite often the lead will play in black makeup, even now.
Which on the one hand is, well, fair enough and on the other is fucking gob-smacking.
Add into this the themes underlying Othello of a black man attempting to pass in a white society (caveat – I know next to bugger all about the underlying themes of Othello) and you’ve got some nice meaty issues to get your teeth into. Graham Vick, the director of this production of Othello, has every intention of getting his teeth into them.
Hence, if you will, the poster.
I’m in the singing chorus and have been taking photos from behind the scenes (no spoilers):