How Should You Perform and Watch Othello and Hairspray in a Country Where You Could Never Hire Black Actors? Shakespeare and Casting in Japan
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This paper discusses how Japanese theatres have handled race in a country where hiring black actors to perform Shakespeare’s plays is not an option. In English-speaking regions, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, it is common to hire a black actor for Othello’s title role. Blackface is increasingly unacceptable because it reminds viewers of derogatory stereotypes in minstrel shows, and it deprives black actors of employment opportunities. However, the situation is different in regions where viewers are unfamiliar with this Anglo-US trend. In Japan, a country regarded as so homogeneous that its census does not have any questions about ethnicity, it is almost impossible to hire a skilled black actor to play a title role in a Shakespearean play, and few theatre companies would consider such an idea. In this cultural context, there is an underlying question of how Japanese-speaking theatre should present plays dealing with racial or cultural differences. This paper seeks to understand the recent approaches that Japanese theatre has adopted to address race in Shakespearean plays by analysing several productions of Othello and comparing them with other major non-Shakespearean productions.