White Actor Cast to Play Dr. King and the Playwright Was Not Having It

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  Actress Katori Hall attends Katori Hall's "Hurt Village" opening night party at Signature Theatre Company’s Pershing Square Signature Center on February 27, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

White Actor Cast to Play Dr. King and the Playwright Was Not Having It

Kent State University attempted "non-traditional" casting.

Published November 11, 2015

Kent State University took a big leap of creative license when it cast a white actor to play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a production of The Mountaintop — and playwright Katori Hall is not impressed with the results.

"The casting of a white King is committing yet another erasure of the Black body," Hall writes of the production in an essay for The Root. “Sure, it might be in the world of pretend, but it is disrespectful nonetheless, especially to a community that has rare moments of witnessing itself, both creatively and literally, in the world.”

She also argues against the equivalence of casting non-white actors in traditionally white roles. “Having white actors take on roles written specifically for actors of color will never reset the historical record that 75% of roles cast in the American theater are for white men,” she wrote.

The production’s director, Michael Oatman, who is Black, said in an interview on Kent State’s website, “I truly wanted to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity … I wanted to see how the words rang differently or indeed the same coming from two different actors with two different racial backgrounds.”

Though nothing can be done about Kent State's production of The Mountaintop, Hall is making sure it doesn't happen again by adding a clause to the play’s licensing agreement dictating that both roles be played by Black actors unless she has given approval otherwise.

Watch David Oyelowo, who played Dr. King in the Oscar-nominated Selma, talk about the role and Black stories told through white eyes below:

(Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Written by Evelyn Diaz


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