Interpreting Othello in the Arabian Gulf: Shakespeare in a Time of Blackface Controversies

Authors

  • Katherine Hennessey Assistant Professor of English, American University of Kuwait, and (in 2020) Research Fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-8530.22.07

Keywords:

Shakespeare, Othello, Antara Ibn Shaddad, blackface, Arab blackface, Kuwait, Egypt, Arab/ic film and theatre, Arabian Gulf

Abstract

This article opens with some brief observations on the phenomenon of Arab blackface—that is, of Arab actors “blacking up” to impersonate black Arab or African characters—from classic cinematic portrayals of the warrior-poet Antara Ibn Shaddad to more recent deployments of blackface in the Arab entertainment industry. It then explores the complex nexus of race, gender, citizenship and social status in the Arabian Gulf as context for a critical reflection on the author’s experience of reading and discussing Othello with students at the American University of Kuwait—discussions which took place in the fall of 2019, in the midst of a wave of controversies sparked by instances of Arab blackface on television and in social media.

Author Biography

Katherine Hennessey, Assistant Professor of English, American University of Kuwait, and (in 2020) Research Fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities

Katherine Hennessey researches literature, theatre, and film in the Arabian Gulf, Yemen, and Ireland, with a particular focus on global adaptations of Shakespeare. She is the author of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula (Palgrave 2018) and co-editor, with Margaret Litvin, of Shakespeare in the Arab World (Berghahn 2019). She also directed the film Shakespeare in Yemen (2018), and translated the first two Yemeni plays to appear in English, A Crime on Restaurant Street and The Colonel’s Wedding, both by Wajdi al-Ahdal. Since 2017 she has served as Assistant Professor of English and Assistant Dean for Curriculum at the American University of Kuwait; she is on research leave in 2020, as a Fellow with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Published

2020-12-30

How to Cite

Hennessey, K. (2020). Interpreting Othello in the Arabian Gulf: Shakespeare in a Time of Blackface Controversies. Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance, 22(37), 103-123. https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-8530.22.07