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Professor under investigation for subjecting students to blackface by showing them Laurence Olivier's 'Othello'

Let’s get this straight — the governor of Virginia admitted to wearing blackface and managed to stay in office. The prime minister of Canada is on film wearing blackface more than once, and he’s still prime minister. But a university professor and composer who subjected students to blackface by screening Laurence Olivier’s “Othello” in class is no longer teaching that class and is under investigation.


The Michigan Daily reports:

On Sept. 10, Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Olivia Cook attended her first composition seminar with [Bright] Sheng. This semester, the course focused on analyzing Shakespeare’s works, and the class began with a screening of the 1965 version of “Othello.” Cook told The Daily she quickly realized something seemed strange, and upon further inspection, noticed the onscreen actor Laurence Olivier was in blackface.

“I was stunned,” Cook said. “In such a school that preaches diversity and making sure that they understand the history of POC (people of color) in America, I was shocked that (Sheng) would show something like this in something that’s supposed to be a safe space.”

Sheng apologized, but his apology was criticized as well:

On Sept. 16, Sheng sent out a formal apology to the department. He wrote that after doing more research into the issue, he realized the true extent to which racism impacts American culture, adding that he failed to recognize the racist connotation of blackface makeup.

However, the apology has been another source of controversy among students. Students have taken particular issue with the section of the letter where Sheng lists multiple examples of how he has worked with people of color in the past.


Ah, the old “black friend” defense. That is just a socially acceptable expression of white supremacy, we’ve been assured.


We’d had a tweet lined up from Sammy Sussman, who’d written a piece on Medium about the harm done by the professor, but now we are being told his Twitter account no longer exists. Looks like he got a taste of his own medicine.


Oh yeah, he pixelated Olivier’s face in the movie still he used to promote his post.



We hope the university has counseling in place for these students who saw the film without warning.


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