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Outrage after play casts white man as Martin Luther King

OUTRAGE: Playwright Katori Hall blasted a university production for casting a white actor to play activist Martin Luther King

THE WRITER behind the acclaimed The Mountaintop play about Martin Luther King Jr is outraged after an Ohio college cast a white actor to portray the iconic black civil rights leader.

Katori Hall blasted Kent State University and the director of the school’s amateur presentation for their “tone deaf” decision to have a white man play the role of the historic figure, the New York Daily News reported.

“The casting of a white King is committing yet another erasure of the black body,” Hall wrote Monday in a scathing piece in The Root. “Sure, it might be in the world of pretend, but it is disrespectful nonetheless.”

The furious 34-year-old dramatist said she was stunned when she first caught wind of the controversial casting in early October from a colleague.

“The actor playing King stood there, hands outstretched, his skin far from chocolate but a creamy buff. At first glance I was like, ‘Unh-uh, maybe he light-skinned. Don’t punish the brother for being able to pass,'” she said.

But she soon found out director Michael Oatman, an adjunct playwriting professor at the school, had in fact double-cast the role of MLK with a black actor and a white actor.


CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Both men would split the six-performance run at the university's Department of Pan-African Studies African Community Theater from September 25 to October 4.

Oatman said in an August press release that he purposefully selected the white and black actors to "stir discussion" about race.

"I truly wanted 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," he said at the time.

Hall said she had a respectful phone call with the director about a month after he staged The Mountaintop .

She said that Oatman, who is black, did not discuss the decision to use a white actor with her before the play ran and called the decision “disrespectful”.

Hall said she thought that if a director was going to experiment like Oatman did, then they should include a discussion with the audience or create another forum to measure the success of such an exercise.

“With a playwright’s intention being dangerously distorted, Oatman’s experiment proved to be a self-serving and disrespectful directing exercise for a paying audience,” Hall wrote.

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