In White Verona, where we lay our scene

Right now you’re asking, “Seriously Dawn, another blog?” Well yes…and here’s why: two weeks ago I watched the trailer for the upcoming Romeo and Juliet film.

Romeo and Juliet is my favorite play of all time, so of course I was beyond excited to learn of a new film version and I promptly watched the trailer 3 times in rapid succession (Imdb.com lists a July, 2013 UK release). It did not escape me that there aren’t any people of color on screen in this trailer, but I intend to reserve judgment until I see the film in its entirety. I did however stop on by the message boards on imdb where another person made note of the lack of POCs in trailer. Now here is where I lost my cool…

Clearly the Baz Luhrmann contemporary setting R+J (1996), it ain’t, but the amount of willful ignorance displayed in some of the board comments set my teeth on edge. Several (and I am understating this) people responded to the initial concern of no POC with “well it’s a traditional version,” “there were no black people in Italy,” “why would you expect to see people of color.” Well friends, here is why we CAN and SHOULD desire (if not expect) to see POC in this (yes even a “traditional”) version of Romeo and Juliet, black people lived in Italy. Shocking I know but (and I don’t want to turn this into a history lesson), we KNOW that Italy sits on the Mediterranean Sea and guess where else sits on the Mediterranean? Um that would be Africa friends. And let’s please not have the “which Africans are black and which aren’t debate.” Colonization does tricky tricky things to native populations.

Let’s look at Shakespeare’s other “Italian Plays.” In Merchant of Venice a Moroccan Prince is a worthy suitor for Portia, guess where he goes to woo…you got it Italy. And had she chosen him, their little babies would have been lords and ladies, chillin in Italy…with brown skin. What about Othello…do we think he is the ONLY Moor in all of Venice? Oh and hey in The Tempest the King of Naples marries his daughter to an African in Tunis. Brown skin princes all up in Napoli. Hermia (Greece, I know, a little further down the coast), is referred to as a “tawny” “Ethiope.” I could go on.

Now I understand that Shakespeare wasn’t Italian, wasn’t in Italy, and was writing very much through an English lens, but if black people made it as far north as England, you can damn sure bet they were in Italy. Remember how the Romans conquered everybody? remember how the Roman playwright Terence was black? I’m not writing about if racism existed or the extent to which people where cruel to one another based on class and other external factors. I know that in all of human history these problems have persisted. What I am suggesting is that Italy was not the fantasy land of homogenous culture and complexion that these commenters would like to believe.

Now if this director made casting decisions that don’t include POC, he wouldn’t be the first, but we don’t get to be so simple minded as to think that all shades of people haven’t inhabited the land masses surrounding the most notorious trade route of all time.

Want a lil more info beside my rant…you got it, try this book, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe edited by T.F. Earle and K.J. Lowe. There is also the multi-volume work, The Image of the Black in Western Art…or google.

So friends this is what’s in store. Me and my love affair with Bard…sometimes love song, often times rant…praises and disappointments alike. And yes, there will be ellipses galore.

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One thought on “In White Verona, where we lay our scene

  1. Pingback: “Our toil shall strive to mend”: Why Julian Fellowes fails as a Shakespearean | Yep, More Shakespeare Criticism

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