Othello Racism

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An unusual period continued in the 1600s, when the classic tragedy “Othello” composed by William Shakespeare was born. Since that time, numerous adaptations of the well-known tragedy have been produced. The 2001 movie version of Othello directed by Tim Nelson applied a contemporary perspective, making the play appealing to 21st century audiences. Both the play and the movie portray Othello as a tragic hero.

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Representation of the global issue of racism in Othello throughout the times

Racism is an essential problem that is present both in our present society and in the Elizabethan society where the play was set. In Othello, Othello is referred to as a “Moor”, which according to Collins Dictionary “the term ‘Moor’ referred to dark-skinned people in general, used interchangeably with similarly ambiguous terms as ‘African’, ‘Ethiopian’, ‘Negro’, and even ‘Indian’ to designate a figure from Africa.” Likewise, in “O”, Nelson employs a variety of unique symbols to reveal the theme of racial tension between whites and blacks.

Another explanation why he chose to develop a black individual is probably just how color is represented. Black often provides us the perception that it is filthy and impure, and illegal narcotics present us with the same image. Another example is the black hawk, which is contrasted with the white doves. At the beginning of the movie, hawks can be described as dark, strong and prideful. However, when the hawk, a black man, is locked in a cage and divided from the white dove, a white man, the portrayal of the black man does not blend into white society. This is evidence that the concept of racism keeps evolving over time, enabling a shifting public to address the concerns within.

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In both creations there are topics, ideas, values, opinions and symbolism that are brought to the forefront. An idea that is evident in both works is the “concept of the hero”, which is the embodiment of Othello and Odin as heroes in both military and basketball affairs. The symbolism can be traced as well as the topics; the white/black conflict symbolizes the struggle between good and evil, with the distinction that Othello is literally black but mentally white, while Iago is literally white but mentally black. In “O”, this is illustrated by the contrast between a dove and a hawk and can also be viewed as a feature of racism (an example of racism in “Othello” is when Iago calls Othello an “ancient black ram”).

The racism in “O” is also evidenced by the way that Odin is the sole black person in the college and appears in the film along with modern hip-hop music, which reflects the nature of racism in today’s culture. A handkerchief or scarf is also depicted as a symbol, which is the motive of Othello/Odin’s love for Desdemona/Desi. The values that can be noticed in the artworks are the values of Othello from the start to the end of the play. Othello appreciates integrity, his image, his authority, his high standing in the society and his affection for Desdemona. At the close of the play, Othello loses most of his assets, including his prestige, his position of influence, and his power. He loses his sense of reality and loses his own love for Desdemona because of Iago’s constant manipulation and trickery.

Race is unquestionably among the most extensively dealt with themes that manifest themselves in both the film and the play. Race is an ongoing global issue that has led to discrimination and segregation for generations. The black man, the leading character Othello is portrayed as an underdog. Due to racist assumptions, the obstacles Othello encounters reveal the self-doubt he feels afterwards. In the play and the movie, Othello was not only considered because of his skin color. He was almost concealed behind the abilities he portrayed in governance. At the outset of the play, Othello has not yet been discriminated against because he is black. He is clueless about the presence of racism and the strength of such mindless hatred.

Nevertheless, Othello’s attitude began to transform when Iago deceives Othello with the manipulation that Desdemona is in fact a traitor. Anyone hearing this information for the first time would undergo a similar reaction, but as soon as Othello’s attitude began to deteriorate, it was suggested that the way he acted was related to the color of his skin, meaning that people of color display appalling behavior. The significance of his skin is also conveyed in the movie through multiple devices, extreme close-ups that highlight the particulars of Odin’s features and reinforce the idea that he is not the same as the other characters in the story. These discriminatory remarks and biases about unacceptable behavior continue to be a problem today, stereotyping all people of color as “the same”.

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Othello and Odin are tragic heroes because they are honorable and both are affected by a tragic flaw and experience dramatic downfalls. All these features that they both possess result in them being called some of the most iconic tragic heroes in the entire literature.

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