The Malta Independent 5 August 2020, Wednesday

Othello ‘blackfacing’: Herrera says artists should have ‘elbow space’, freedom of expression

Giulia Magri Friday, 28 February 2020, 13:08 Last update: about 6 months ago

Culture Minister Jose Herrera believes in providing artists the needed elbow space and freedom of expression and feels he should only intervene at extremism and when the law is broken. Herrera was speaking to The Malta Independent when asked regarding the casting of a black actor for an upcoming Manoel Theatre production.

Next month, the Manoel Theatre will be presenting Giaochino Rossini’s Otello, which will see its lead applying skin darkening make-up to fit the role of the Moor of Venice.  Clips of tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens having skin darkening makeup applied to his face made rounds on social media earlier this week.

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It was reported that the Manoel Theatre’s creative director Kenneth Zammit Tabona justified the decision, firstly pointing out that there are no dark-skinned tenors in Malta and that it would appear ridiculous to present a ‘snow-white’ Othello to audiences.

Blackface refers to wearing make-up to imitate the appearance of a black person.  The clip has left many people in conflict of whether the act of skin-darkening make up is offensive or just a part of make-up and theatre production.

“It is a delicate issue, and I wish to reaffirm my position and the whole position of the country, that we are totally against racism,” Herrera told this newsroom.

Photo: Cliff Zammit Stevens/Facebook


The Minister recounted times in the past when artists had coloured their face to feel part of the community.

“This particular play, William Shakespeare’s Othello, has a coloured character”, said Herrera. “Now you could use a white character, but I do not see it as offensive, I personally do not see it as an insult but reflective of a classical play and not an insult to the black community.”

He said that times people can at times be too over-sensitive on certain issues and too politically correct.

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