Playwright Katori Hall blasted Kent State University’s production of her acclaimed work The Mountaintop after the director cast a white man to play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Director Michael Oatman, an adjunct playwright professor, double-cast a black and white man to play the Civil Rights Icon in hopes to start a dialogue about race.
“I truly wanted to explore the issue of racial ownership and authenticity. I didn’t want this to be a stunt, but a true exploration of King’s wish that we all be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” he told The New York Daily News.
The Mountaintop is a fictional play set entirely in room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel on the last night of Dr. King’s life, and while Hall understands it’s make believe, she still expressed great displeasure when she saw actor Robert Branch in the role.
“The casting of a white King is committing yet another erasure of the black body,” Hall wrote for The Root. “Sure, it might be in the world of pretend, but it is disrespectful nonetheless.
Both actors split the six-performance run at Ken State’s Department of Pan-African Studies African Community Theater from September 25 to October.
Hall says that while she never explicitly said Dr. King and the maid Camae in the play are black, an analysis of the work would dictate that, even referencing Russian directors who also put on the production searched far and wide to cast black actors for the role. Due to Kent State’s creative license of Hall’s play, she is now taking legal actions.
In the wake of the Kent State production, the following clause has been added to my licensing agreement: “Both characters are intended to be played by actors who are African-American or Black. Any other casting choice requires the prior approval of the author.”