Attacking Apartheid and Trivializing the Fear of Black Male Sexuality: Janet Suzman's "Othello"

In her 1987 staging of "Othello" at the Market Theatre in South Africa, Janet Suzman aimed to make a pertinent artistic and cultural statement about both the political system of Apartheid and its deep racial underpinnings. Recorded on video for dissemination abroad, Suzman's production is unique both in its depiction of sexuality and in its placement of Othello, played by John Kani, a small-set native South African whose first language is Xhosa. Suzman worked here to both attack an unjust system she despised and to upend the cultural narrative of white supremacy and black savagery which fostered it.

While Othello first appears on stage in Act I, scene ii, his real introduction to the audience comes slightly later. Suzman redacted much of this scene, leaving it as a short segue between the inciting incident of the first scene and the showdown in the third scene. Othello's entrance here is very subdued. He languidly slips onstage with black-clad Iago, a much more animated figure, who simply asks him, "I pray you, sir,/ Are you fast married?" as a dramatic, foreboding strain plays in the background.

Othello pauses and leans against a wall facing perpendicularly from the audience as Iago walks around him....

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