A Professor’s Apology for Showing a Film With Blackface Was Not Enough

Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Sheng, a professor of composition at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance, said he was sorry for showing a 1965 film version of Othello, starring Laurence Olivier in blackface, during an undergraduate class last month. In the first apology, sent to students shortly after the class ended, he called the film’s use of blackface “racially insensitive and outdated” and wrote that it was “wrong for me” to show it. He promised they would discuss the issue in the next class. As it turns out, he wouldn’t get that chance.

In an email sent several days later, Sheng again apologized, this time at more length, writing that he did not initially realize the “graveness of my action” and that he “failed to recognize that showing a heavy makeup of a black face in fact has a strong racist content.” But that didn’t stop calls for Sheng, a renowned composer and pianist who was selected as MacArthur fellow in 2001, to be removed from the class.

More here.