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Why Can't A White Man Play Martin Luther King Jr,?

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posted on Sep, 1 2013 @ 12:34 PM
reply to post by chishuppu

Yes, God forbid! The German guy and the Jewish guy might learn something from each other by seeing what it looks like in the other's shoes. And we wouldn't want THAT, would we kids?


posted on Sep, 1 2013 @ 02:24 PM
Some theater from the anti-apartheid era in South Africa, which drama students may have to perform eventually.

Especially at the beginning, it is not something aspiring first-year actors find comforting.
It can be quite frightening.

Dealing with oppression and race also deals with dehumanization, and actors must be very committed, even to the point of exhibitionism.

It is not simply making a speech that was a culmination of years of opposing violent oppression and discrimination.
Sure, many young people want to be Nelson Mandela giving a speech, and that's not too hard with some passion.
But the journey to that speech meant public humiliation - being treated like sub-human dirt.
Here theater, especially protest and agitprop theater, was often more realistic than film.
There's an expectation of theater to be realistic to an extent (and copy film conventions), but the best theater is usually not entirely realistic.
Even in the US, theater about AIDS was often more realistic than the somewhat sanitized movies like Philadelphia.

The first scene is from the 1981 play Woza Albert, which begins with the humiliating pass laws, and prison scenes.

The play eventually ends up with Jesus (Morena) coming back as a black man on the then political prison of Robben Island.
After failed attempts to bomb Jesus by the imperialist apartheid regime, he walks over the water to South Africa and resurrects all the fallen struggle heroes ("woza" means "rise up").

It's very physical theater, and the two shirtless black protagonists play a range of characters.
When they act as racist white officials or politicians, they put on a red clown's nose.

The play has a lot of African language jargon, which would make it very difficult to perform by a white actor.
Outside drama school exercises, I haven't seen that done in a production.

However, since apartheid was influenced by American segregation, dealing with dehumanizing roles might be good as an exercise:

The second play is called Somewhere on the Border, and it deals with the experiences of white army conscripts during apartheid SA.
The main issue was the Angolan war, which was part of the cold war in Africa; apparently instigated by the American CIA.

Interestingly, during a performance at the Grahamstown Art's Festival in the 1980s, the South African Defense Force refused to let the actors wear uniforms, and the cast performed the entire play in their underpants!

Now that's what I call commitment and dedication!

Although neither plays are totally realistic, until now directors are not ready to use actors who are racially different to the characters for public productions, and it seems unlikely that audiences would be willing to pay for such a total departure from historical realism.

In struggle theater all the local actors were immersed in the apartheid culture (that is they protested against what they directly knew and experienced), but nowadays one school of acting would actually encourage a period of immersion in an oppressed community, or at least an intense study of the character's community.

So studying "Woza Albert" might men living in a mine compound or prison for a week (where male black bodies are still dehumanized), or "Somewhere on the Border" might mean living with the military (or attending a right wing camp, since most armies don't function like that anymore).

Where would one go to study Dr. King?

OK, that's a bit intense for school theater, but this may be expected of actors, and they should be willing to do it if they want the part.

edit on 1-9-2013 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 3 2013 @ 02:16 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

Well, today, I had acting class again. And today, they had the guy who was gonna play Martin Luther King.

We did not talk about it in class. She just told me over email that I wouldn't be playing him.

Well, he was good. Looked a little bit like a young Laurence Fishburne. I yielded to the better actor. Didn't bring it up to him that I wanted the role. Didn't want to bring him down, or worry him about his abilities. Didn't want to act-block him.

His performance so far has been a bit subdued, less emotive than I would, but he has time to improve.

I sat there, while everyone rehearsed their parts. But mine is one line long, near the end. So, there I was, trying to learn. For like, 20 minutes, nothing. Twiddling my thumbs.

My acting teacher gave me an ultimatum. Share a part, "Daniel", with another actress, but I don't want to steal her part. She said I could have my original role, Young Man #1, or that I could just do stage work.

I chose Young Man #1. I didn't want to turn this into a huge controversy, and I think it would be counter productive to the production of the play if I just kept pushing it. Now that they have their Doctor King, I understand. But, God, does it leave me idle during class.

So, I stayed after class, as the teacher said that students could, as she was going to remain around for a while to help people figure out their parts, and so on and so forth.
So, for like an hour, I helped a girl rehearse her part as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, acting out the role of Lucretia Mott. Not in drag, or with ridiculous voice. I just didn't make it an issue. She needed help, and none of us turned it into a joke.

Afterwards, she said she felt more confident about performing, and thanked the teacher, and thanked me for standing in for the other folks, and helping her prepare.

Sometimes, you've just got to accept reality for what it is. Concede to the better man. And that I did. I shook the actor playing Doctor King's hand when he left, and told him that I liked his performance so far.

Sometimes, you've got to realize that you can't fight an ocean. I hope I atleast made her consider a few philosophical issues though. I've had to consider a few myself. It's atleast an interesting matter of debate, but for the sake of the show, I've got to be a gentleman here.

posted on Sep, 3 2013 @ 04:44 PM
reply to post by Grifter42

Thanks for the feedback, and it's always great to get a sense of closure on events, although the topic remains cutting edge.

I think you did good for the current circumstances, and yeah it would have been like holding back the ocean.
I mean there's so much they could have thrown at you, from various theories of acting that require direct experience or cultural immersion to simply calling you disruptive and having you ejected.

In a positive sense you've already picked up experience.
You've experienced a type of discrimination based on your race (which according to political correctness should just be an unimportant factor of incidental skin color).

Perhaps you could work on a script on your experiences.
Would it be a comedy or tragedy?

It's certainly a very compelling issue, and people are questioning double standards, reverse racism and political correctness more than ever.
That is, you weren't insulting other races, you actually identified with Dr. King and fell victim to a historic system that cannot escape its own stereotypes.

I hope one day you can explode that stifled environment, and perhaps direct your own plays.

Actually I'm surprised that nobody has made a movie on this topic yet.

But your thinking is actually too advanced for their specific context - it doesn't sound like the place they're going to perform Hair, let alone a play about AIDS or something radical like a non-black Dr. King.

It doesn't matter if you say one line, you can still put it on a CV as experience for future auditions (you don't have to mention how many lines you said).

edit on 3-9-2013 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 4 2013 @ 04:38 PM
reply to post by halfoldman

Interesting update. The playwright wrote back to me. Or rather, a woman involved with the playwright.
She relayed my quandary to him.

Well, this is what she wrote back.

"Dear John,

I spoke with Eric about your request. He does feel that Martin Luther King, Jr. should be played by a black actor. Given the issues of race the play discusses and it being about rights for a certain group of people, he feels that’s important.
**** *****"

I at least am glad I got his opinion. Sometimes you have to ask questions no matter how stupid they are.

I just hope I'm not as crazy as I feel like I am. I will play Young Man #1 as best as I can, I guess.
Gary Oldman got a bit part in True Romance, and he was the best part of that movie. I'll just have to put some character in it.

posted on Sep, 5 2013 @ 08:39 PM
reply to post by Grifter42

You were right and you've been the victim of a racist double standard that King would surely have condemned. Honestly, I'm disappointed that you gave up so easily. Even if the black guy they chose is a better actor than you, you should not have been denied the part based on your race alone, and the teacher should have faced repercussions because of her hypocritical attitude. Racism against whites is normal unfortunately, and if white people themselves won't fight it, who will?

posted on Sep, 16 2013 @ 03:47 PM
Well, it's no matter anyway. Went to an optional rehearsal today after my other classes.

She kicked me out. Said that I ought to concentrate on my other classes.

Thanks, Mrs. *****! You're a real student friendly type professor. I had a mental breakdown the couple of days of rehearsal I missed, but that's no matter. Dry heaving with anxiety, couldn't get out bed due to something damn near a panic attack because the Government transferred my father's whereabouts to the county jail of the county I live in. I hadn't seen him in person in seven years. I know what it's like to have the police oppress a person.

I still get the impression that this is about the Martin Luther King Jr. thing. I guess she thinks I'm a problem student.

You know, if I had known she was taking me out of the class, I would have filed those ACLU forms.
Anyone know what the statute of limitations are on that?

posted on Sep, 16 2013 @ 06:03 PM
reply to post by Grifter42

My parent called her. Spoke with her. Well, she said according to FERPA, she couldn't talk about my record with my parent. She was real quick to get off the phone.

Well, I've read FERPA. I did a bit of research on it. I can't claim to be a lawyer, as I'm just a college student, but my acting teacher seems to have a strange interpretation of it.

It took me a while to understand it, it kept referring to other bills, and so on and so forth. Eventually I began to understand it though. Under items 99.4 and 99.5 are the rights of students and parents.

99.5 section 2 states: "

(2) Nothing in this section prevents an

educational agency or institution from

disclosing education records, or

personally identifiable information from

education records, to a parent without

the prior written consent of an eligible

student if the disclosure meets the

conditions in § 99.31(a)(8),

§ 99.31(a)(10), § 99.31(a)(15), or

any other provision in § 99.31(a)."

Now, the FERPA regulations in certain places make reference to their authority being granted by previous legislature 20 USC 1232g.

And the opening rider of 1232g states:

"(1) (A) No funds shall be made available under any applicable program to any educational agency or institution which has a policy of denying, or which effectively prevents, the parents of students who are or have been in attendance at a school of such agency or at such institution, as the case may be, the right to inspect and review the education records of their children."

If it's a consent thing, like under 99.30, where it talks about conditions in which prior consent is required for public disclosure of information, it states that either student or parent can sign the waiver, which seems to imply that the parent in those laws has the consent to speak about the child's record.

If I'm wrong, please point out the section to me in FERPA where it states that you cannot disclose that information to a parent.

However, it seems like she's just waiving legislature around in an effort to not have to explain things in detail that might sound bad.

posted on Sep, 24 2013 @ 10:02 PM
reply to post by Grifter42

I don't ever recall Abraham Lincoln
being played by a black actor.

Maybe some whacked-out 1960's
Off Off Broadway director tried
it once and had Abraham Lincoln free

posted on Sep, 25 2013 @ 10:07 AM
reply to post by BillChanger

What if you can't tell their skin colour or nationality? What if they're light skinned in a line of light skinned african americans, to the point where one can't tell? Is there a point of blackness where one is unable to play Lincoln? I think that's really petty. If a good african american actor wants to play Lincoln, then they should let him. Or her, even. Would you rather have a qualified actor who puts their mind and mannerisms into the role, or some guy who fits the color of the part but has no qualifications? I mean, David Duke is white, but if you were to have a powerful speaker like MLK to read a speech of Lincoln and try to resemble his mannerisms, cadence, etcetera, I think it'd be better than Duke's hate filled mockery of an attempt at such a thing.

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