Race in O

This reproduction of Othello felt much more charged than when we read the play, because the setting and characters were both chosen to maximize the racial lense of this story. The setting of Charleston very much centered the story in Southern racism, especially since we were not shown the romanticised city, but rather the fraught suburbs. Often when movies are set in Charleston, they choose to highlight the idyllic looking city, which has his own racist history. But the “charm” anesthetises the darkness of a city that was built around the slave trade. By choosing to highlight the reality of Charleston, it felt more real, almost as if this was something that had actually happened, rather than the adaptation of a Shakespearean plot. 

The directors also choose to throw in various icons, and references that kept the plot grounded in Southern racism. One of the most jarring moments for me was when Desi was wearing a confederate flag while hooking up with Odin. It was the ultimate representation of southern juxtaposition. The fact that a girl would be in a relationship with a black man and yet still wear a Confederate flag. While that is not a stereotype that is true for all of the South it certainly is such a Southern phenomenon. That an individual would overcome individual racial prejudices, but not yet understand racism at an institutional level. 

Quickly following that moment Odin and Desi joked about the slave/ master comparison that could be made about their relationship. The setting and staging of this movie made sure that you never got too comfortable with the relationship between Othello and Desi, because something just felt off the entire time. Which was exacerbated by the fact that there were only a handful of black people in the entire movie. In some ways the movie felt like a precursor to Get Out, because the white people’s relationships with Odin always felt transactional or performative.

3 comments

  1. I also found the setting of a southern, primarily white school to be very important to rendering Odin an “outsider” in the eyes a modern American audience with an awareness of institutionalized racism, just as the setting of Venice (and later Cyrus) are important to rendering Othello an “outsider” in the original play. That said, I wonder why the setting doesn’t change dramatically like it did in the original play.

  2. I like your analysis; I think that the focus on race in America provides a very different and more accessible context for modern audiences. Race is always a factor in O, like it is in our modern lives.

  3. I appreciate the examples you’re drawing from to show how the film portrayed race issues, specifically the juxtaposition of romance and the confederate flag. I think it was part of the creative decision-making during production in order to get the very reaction you’re describing. While I also think it fails to do this appropriately, the intent is clear.

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