A teacher resigns after showing a film in class with an actor dressed in “blackface”

At the University of Michigan in the United States, a famous composer and teacher created controversy after showing the 1965 version of the film “Othello”.

At the School of Music, Theater and Dance of the University of Michigan (United States), the controversy lasted several weeks. According to The Michigan Daily , the illustrious composer Bright Sheng, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and whose compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra or the National Symphony Orchestra of China, has resigned after showing his students the 1965 film version ofOthello, in which Laurence Olivier sports a “blackface”.

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It all started on September 10th. That day, Sheng gave a composition class to undergraduate students. If he chooses to show them this film, it is in order to see “How the composer Verdi adapted Shakespeare’s play into an opera”, he explains to Daily . His students, them, are shocked and complain to various bodies of the university, including the Office of Equity (the “equality office”).

“I was amazed”, reports one of them to Michigan Daily. “As we are in an institution that promotes diversity and seeks to understand the history of people of color in the United States, I was shocked that Sheng was showing such a movie in a place that was supposed to be one.” safe space ” (a dedicated place on the university campus where students are safe, editor’s note). “ The dean of the university wrote a formal email five days later: “Professor Sheng’s actions do not align with the institution’s commitment, which is the fight against racism, diversity, equality and inclusion.”

A widely criticized letter of apology

The composer, in turn, formulated a message of apology. “In a classroom, I am a professor who represents the university (…). I apologize if my actions have offended and made you angry. Because of that, I lost your trust. ” Bright Sheng also wanted to defend himself from any accusations of racism.. “For the world premiere of my opera The Silver River in South Carolina in 2000, I selected an African-American actress (for the lead role), an Asian dancer and a white baritone. ” The professor assures us that he “Never perceived as someone discriminating against race”.

The letter was not well received by the students. “He could have assumed and understood how difficult it was for some students in his class. Instead, he tried to find excuses. Instead of asking for forgiveness, he tried to downplay what had originally happened ”, testifies one of them.

Shortly afterwards, on September 23, an open letter was written by students, then signed by 33 others as well as 9 members of the establishment that the Michigan Daily reports: “(…) He defends himself by drawing up a list of all BIPOC individuals (Black, indigenous and people of color) whom he has helped or with whom he has befriended during his career. The letter suggests that it was thanks to him that many of them succeeded. “ Bright Sheng ultimately resigned. He will no longer provide his seminar but will pursue other activities within the university. “It’s the minimum”, comments one of the students at Daily.


SEE ALSO – What is “blackface”?

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A teacher resigns after showing a film in class with an actor dressed in “blackface”

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