U of M Professor Ousted After Showing Film With Actor in Blackface
A highly-regarded music professor at the University of Michigan is being forced to step down from teaching an undergraduate composition class after showing 'Othello' which features the film's lead actor dressed in blackface.
Bright Sheng, who in addition to his role as a professor at the University's School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, is also an accomplished composer, conductor, and pianist. His work has been featured by groups such as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra, and the New York City Ballet Orchestra.
But there was considerable backlash after his decision to screen the 1965 film starring Sir Laurence Olivier in the title role. He wore blackface throughout the movie. Although many cast members were nominated for Oscars, the film was only shown as a new release in theaters for two days.
Although the composition class focuses mainly on the works of William Shakespeare, many students were upset with Sheng's decision to show the film.
Olivia Cook is a freshman on the Ann Arbor campus and tells the Michigan Daily that she "was stunned" by the contents of the film.
“In such a school that preaches diversity and making sure that they understand the history of POC (people of color) in America, I was shocked that (Sheng) would show something like this in something that’s supposed to be a safe space.”
Sheng has stepped down from teaching that particular class at the university.
The professor sent out an apology shortly after the September 10 screening saying that the casting and portrayal “was racially insensitive and outdated.”
Other faculty members agreed, saying that showing the film without a contents advisory was a mistake.